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Private new car sales are down about 5% on the first half of last year, although a lot of that was during the first three months when compared to a record first quarter in 2017.  The last three months have seen more stability, and are likely to more realistically predict what’s in store for the rest of the year.

The main news topic continues to be the collapse of diesel in the new car market. Despite the ongoing howls from industry lobbyists, it looks like the diesel ship has sailed, and an ever-increasing number of car manufacturers have announced that they will be discontinuing diesel models in coming years. Interestingly, diesel’s market share has stabilised in the last couple of months after about two years of steady falls. From a high point of as much as 55% of total market share, diesel sales have fallen down to a low of 30.6% in April and recovered to about 32% in the last two months. It seems likely to stay at this sort of level for the time being, but is unlikely to return to anywhere like its previous level.

Within the industry, there are brands enjoying a successful start to the year and others who are suffering. Let’s have a look at the ten biggest winners and losers from the first half of 2018. It’s important to note that the official numbers always refer to registrations rather than sales, because many manufacturers will play various self-registration games to boost numbers when it suits them (eg – dealer demonstrators, loan cars, “management cars” and pre-registered vehicles)

The ten biggest winners of 2018 so far:

1. MG (up 115%)

MG ZS SUV, June 2018
MG ZS. Another sports car brand joins the SUV set.

MG is enjoying the sales benefits that have come from finally joining the SUV sector, with the ZS model joining the GS model in the brand’s line-up. Registrations to date are more than double those from last year.

2. McLaren (up 48%)

McLaren 570S and 720S June 2018
McLaren 720S (left) and 570S (right). Either will be fine, thanks.

Small-volume brands like McLaren see a lot of fluctuation because they don’t have many models, so when they launch a new one their sales will skyrocket for a while. McLaren’s latest 720S supercar is helping the company achieve some great numbers at the moment, which will naturally slow down over time, while the entry-level Sports Series models like the 570S (pictured) are helping build volume.

3. Abarth (up 33%)

A cluster of Abarth 124 Spiders
A cluster of spiders… Abarth 124 Spiders, that is.

Good news for Abarth, Fiat’s performance sub-brand, with a 33% increase on last year’s numbers and a steadily-growing community of Abarth enthusiasts. As we’ll see later, Fiat’s own models would love that sort of success.

4. SEAT (up 22%)

SEAT SUV sales June 2018
I don’t know what the collective noun for a number of SEAT vehicles is.

Volkswagen’s Spanish brand is going from strength to strength, and a 22% increase on last year’s result is more good news for SEAT. Once again, it’s SUVs leading the way, although the all-new Ibiza supermini is doing it’s bit for the cause as well.

5. Porsche (up 17%)

Porsche pop-up at Harrods
Nothing says ‘sports car company’ like flogging SUVs from Harrods.

German SUV manufacturer Porsche has registered 17% more new cars in 2018 than at the same point last year. Some of those registrations may be sports cars like the 911 or Cayman, but the majority are 4x4s to ferry the kids to expensive schools in Surrey.

6. Subaru (up 15%)

Subaru XV
Subaru XV sales are finally giving the company some traction in the UK.

Subaru continues to fly under the radar in the UK, but its numbers are 15% better than this time a year ago. The new XV crossover has been a big help, so we’ll see whether Subaru can sustain this growth for the rest of the year. It’s a good recovery, as this time last year Subaru was on the other side of this list as one of the worst performers in the industry.

7. Mitsubishi (up 14%)

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, June 2018
Just the thing if you need to go off-road electrically (for a fairly short distance).

Another brand that has turned its performance around from where it was 12 months ago, Mitsubishi has enjoyed a 14% improvement over last year in the year-to-date sales figures, after a 15% fall in the previous year. The Outlander is still the country’s favourite plug-in hybrid SUV, but as more rivals start to offer plug-in alternatives, will Mitsubishi be able to maintain this performance?

8. Lexus (up 7%)

Lexus RX L, June 2018
How to play the long game: 1) Shun diesel, commit to hybrids. 2) Wait a decade for the market to come to you.

Having stuck to its hybrid strategy for a long time now, Lexus is well placed to benefit from the shift away from diesel cars. Plus it’s growing range of SUVs will be helping, and should be boosted further by the arrival of the small UX model later this year.

9. Volkswagen (up 5%)

Greenpeace Volkswagen demonstration, V&A Museum, London
Greenpeace subtly conveying its disapproval of Volkswagen’s behaviour. Image (c) Greenpeace.

Any publicity’s good publicity, eh? Given that the global anti-diesel mood has largely been created by Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal, it’s ironic that the monkey-gassers from Wolfsburg are selling more cars than ever. Volkswagen registrations are up 5% on this time last year, and the company is by far the biggest brand to see growing sales figures in 2018. Proof, if it was needed, that the public really is gullible.

=10. Hyundai and Kia (up 2%)

Hyundai i30 N - June 2018
Hyundai i30 N – taking on the GTI/Type R/ST hot hatches

Hyundai just pipped sister brand Kia into tenth place on this list, but the results are so similar that we’ve grouped them together. Both brands recorded almost identical registration numbers both this year (51,000 and change) and last year (50,000 and a bit), and almost identical growth of just under 2%. The Korean collective continues to solidify its place at the top table of global car manufacturers.

Next page: The ten biggest losers of 2018 to date

Stuart Masson
Stuart Masson
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.

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