Mike Stevens | Jul 27, 2011

Here, in this strange little corner of the planet, we have what is risibly termed a 'two-speed' economy. That's wrong of course; 'stagnant' isn't a speed, it's a state of being.

So, to be accurate, we have a dichotomous economy - one part, the mining sector and everything remotely connected with it, is belting along with a full head of steam.

The rest: the retail sector, home-building, construction, tourism, you and me, well, we're mostly not. We’re stuck in first gear and going nowhere - stagnant.

That's why the half-yearly VFACTS sales figures for the Australian market is such a mixed bag of apples.

Some segments are down a lot, like large cars - down 25.9 percent for the half-year; others down just marginally - like small cars. But luxury SUVs, they’re up 15.2 percent.

Overall, as reported, the Australian new car market fell 11.6 percent in June and is down 6.6 percent for the half year. But it seems that no matter how patchy the economy, some brands barely feel the bumps.

2012 mazda3 skyactiv 01

Like Mazda, which simply builds cars people want, and the Korean stormers, Hyundai and Kia.

No surprises with the latter two: you’d expect them to do well in a testing market where, dollar for dollar, they hold a value advantage.

But Volkswagen and Audi, they’re also up year-to-date (YTD) in our stagnant market. And, in the case of Audi, up quite a bit: 10.4 percent YTD in fact.

VW, up 6.2 percent YTD and up 7.0 percent for the month, also seems immune to the travails of the economy. And BMW, although down 3.7 percent for the half year, was up 8.0 percent for June.

The performance of ‘the Germans’ here becomes the more interesting when we look at what’s happening in Europe.

There, results for the first half show sales for the region down 1.4 percent for 2011 YTD compared to the same first half period last year, and down 7.8 percent in June.

Despite Europe’s deep economic woes, that’s a better performance than Australia. (Maybe Australian buyers are more easily spooked by doomsayer shock-jocks.)

And, of Europe’s top-ten selling brands, which are up year-to-date? Try Volkswagen, BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. Do you discern a pattern there?

Former GM marques Opel/Vauxhall are also up, but most of the rest are floundering. Fiat, worst affected by the economic mess around the Mediterranean, is down 19.1 percent. It is likely to soon slip behind both Audi and BMW in total sales.

It may have slipped 4.3 percent in June, but Volkswagen remains Europe’s leading marque, with 880,308 new car sales for the half year, widening the gap over its rivals and recording a 5.9 percent increase in sales YTD.

The 2011 Audi A1 1.4 TFSI Sport.
The 2011 Audi A1 1.4 TFSI Sport.

Audi, BMW and Mercedes also all recorded increases for the half year; Audi up 8.7 percent, BMW up 8.4 percent and Mercedes up 0.6 percent. (There is at least one PhD in why buyers in tough times retreat to the security of the most trusted brands.)

There was a bright spot for number two carmaker, Ford, with the release of the new Focus putting it in positive territory in June (up 0.7 percent). Audi’s big boost came courtesy of the new A1 pushing total sales for the four-ringed marque up 9.2 percent in June.

So, who won in Europe? Following is the league ladder of the top ten (source: JATO Dynamics):

 

Top 10 European Manufacturers 2011 YTD

Make & Model

Jun_11

Jun_10

% Change Jun

Jun YtD_11

Jun YtD_10

% Change YtD

VOLKSWAGEN

146,508

153,110

-4.3%

880,308

831,381

+5.9%

FORD

104,140

103,401

+0.7%

596,526

631,943

-5.6%

OPEL/VAUXHALL

102,191

113,998

-10.4%

547,008

531,437

+2.9%

RENAULT

96,254

119,419

-19.4%

566,660

636,759

-11.0%

PEUGEOT

90,410

100,933

-10.4%

519,366

557,887

-6.9%

CITROEN

74,804

86,128

-13.1%

436,569

466,262

-6.4%

FIAT

69,484

80,466

-13.6%

393,906

487,005

-19.1%

AUDI

64,401

58,969

+9.2%

359,154

330,473

+8.7%

BMW

64,349

65,250

-1.4%

336,303

310,355

+8.4%

MERCEDES

58,498

61,064

-4.2%

300,943

299,098

+0.6%

 

Top 10 Models 2011 YTD

The Golf has held onto top spot, with sales of 253,288 units in the first half of the year. Ford however has a very bright performer in the new Focus.

In fact, of the top-ten selling models, only the new Ford Focus and ‘somewhat new’ Volks Passat could report sales increases in both June and year-to-date.


Make & Model

Jun_11

Jun_10

% Change Jun

Jun YtD_11

Jun YtD_10

% Change YtD

VOLKSWAGEN GOLF

41,113

45,329

-9.3%

253,288

272,684

-7.1%

FORD FIESTA

33,567

34,046

-1.4%

195,592

239,026

-18.2%

OPEL/VAUXHALL CORSA

33,133

38,431

-13.8%

170,659

177,578

-3.9%

VOLKSWAGEN POLO

31,590

36,871

-14.3%

188,225

190,650

-1.3%

FORD FOCUS

30,790

22,611

+36.2%

149,328

145,812

+2.4%

OPEL/VAUXHALL ASTRA

29,809

34,612

-13.9%

162,334

165,394

-1.9%

RENAULT CLIO

26,832

33,612

-20.2%

162,519

194,275

-16.3%

PEUGEOT 207

23,859

30,332

-21.3%

140,986

174,733

-19.3%

RENAULT MEGANE

23,051

28,622

-19.5%

129,175

143,346

-9.9%

VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT

22,876

19,447

+17.6%

131,979

102,487

+28.8%

 

The US Market; First Half Sales Results

2011 Chevrolet Silverado.
2011 Chevrolet Silverado.

Meanwhile, over the trench, things are still Jurassic, but not quite as Jurassic as they once were.

There, in the US, the two top-selling cars are not cars. We'd call them utes – big ones – but to American buyers they're trucks.

More to the point, and counter to conventional economic wisdoms that the US economy is in very deep doo-doo with its debt crisis, and sliding further in, new car sales are trending upward. Up 12.8 percent in fact for the first half of 2011.

But they have been down a very long time and remain well shy of the salad days before a collapsing Lehman Brothers bank led the charge into oblivion.

The US though is still the world’s largest economy, and, even when severely weakened, domestic demand for its home-grown automobiles is huge. Total 'light vehicle' sales for the first half of 2011 is a staggering 6,332,566 units. Now that's a lot of iron.

Top ten best-selling models in the US for the first half are (source: Motor Intelligence):

 

Top 10 models 2011 YTD

  1. Ford F-Series: 264,079 sales up 9.9 percent
  2. Chevrolet Silverado: sales 182,785, up 9.6 percent
  3. Toyota Camry: sales 147,469, down 4.4 percent
  4. Toyota Corolla: sales 136,747, down 2.7 percent
  5. Nissan Ultima: sales 131,842, up 18.4 percent
  6. Ford Fusion: sales 131,686, up 18.4 percent
  7. Honda Civic: sales 127,571, down 4.5 percent
  8. Honda Accord: sales 127,105, down 13.9 percent
  9. Chevrolet Cruze: sales 122,972 (new to US market)
  10. Chevrolet Malibu: sales 122,783, up 13.4 percent

And which makers brought home the bacon? No real surprises here: GM and Ford on top with some breathing space on Toyota.

The big 'T' was down, and Honda up just marginally, both severely affected with supply issues following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

 

Top 10 US manufacturers 2011 YTD

  1. GM: 1,261,610 sales, up 17.1 percent YTD
  2. Ford: 1,069,736 sales, up 12.2 percent YTD
  3. Toyota: 812,788 sales, down 4.0 percent YTD
  4. Chrysler: 639,932, up 21.4 percent YTD
  5. Honda: 607,442 sales, up 2.3 percent YTD
  6. Nissan: 504,973 sales, up 14.7 percent YTD
  7. Hyundai: 322,797 sales, up 26.2 percent YTD
  8. Kia: 245,104 sales, up 44.1 percent YTD
  9. Volkswagen: 154,124 sales, up 22.3 percent YTD
  10. Subaru: 132,049 sales, up 4.8 percent YTD

So, that's this half year. But the next half might look completely different – or it might look the same. The world economy is a wild and windy ocean at the moment and things can change very quickly.

It is not just in the car industry that company exchequers are sweating on the US resolving its debt-ceiling crisis and on the European Union working out what to do with Greece and its other insolvent basket-cases.

There is more than one sage commentator warning of soaring interest rates, plummeting stocks, a collapsing US-dollar and danger of double-dip recession spreading beyond the US if Washington can't find agreement on its debt-ceiling crisis.

Thought that might cheer you up.

Tim O'Brien
- TMR Managing Editor

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