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UK sales slump contrasts with the rest of Europe

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Just four of 27 European nations saw car sales decline in 2017 – and only Ireland prevented the UK sliding to rock bottom of the table.

Britain’s car market is still the second biggest in Europe, its 2.5 million+ registrations beaten only by Germany with just over 3.4 million. But while Germany’s figure was almost 3% up on 2016, UK figures slid by nearly 6%. Only Ireland slumped at a greater rate, its 131,360 registrations more than 10% down.

Overall the European new car market had a positive year, up 3% with more than 15.5 million registrations, the highest number in a decade. Some countries, particularly Eastern European nations, saw much higher sales boosts – Lithuania topped the table with growth of 27% (25,836), followed by Hungary (up 20% to 116,240), Croatia (17% to 50,412) and Poland (17% to 487,329).

European growth is not as strong as in previous years, however – in 2016 the figure was 6.5%, a year earlier 9.3%. December’s results were also the lowest in five years, suggesting the market is slowing down, and the finger of blame is increasingly being pointed at the UK and Brexit, seen as damaging consumer confidence.

Diesel slides across Europe

One area where Europe is replicating the UK is in the decline of diesel. While the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) blamed “confusing anti-diesel messages” from Government and others for a 17% slide in UK diesel registrations, the cars are falling in popularity across Europe too.

Diesel registrations across Europe slipped 8% to 6.76 million, a market share below 44%, which is the lowest for such cars since 2007. In the UK, diesel now has a 42% market share, down from nearly 48% a year earlier.

Meanwhile, the growth of the SUV continues unabated. The number of new SUVs registered hit 4.5 million, almost 20% up on 2016. In 10 years, the SUV slice of the market has gone from just 8.5% to just under 30%.

The biggest brand in Europe remains Volkswagen, and its Golf the most popular car. However, it was the market leader in only five European markets, with more than half of the Golf’s 483,105 registrations made in Germany. And while down 1% on 2016, Golf sales were still almost double those of Britain’s best-selling car, the Ford Fiesta, with 254,539.

In further bad news for Ford, the Fiesta figure slumped 15% compared to 2016, although a part of this will certainly be a result of the transition from the old model (introduced in 2009) to the all-new model in the second half of the year.

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Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is a road test editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.