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The new-vehicle sales race is really two different battles. There’s the headline struggle for overall success between the mainstream brands, but there’s also the clash between the luxury carmakers for supremacy in the premium space.
Obviously 2020 has been a year like no other, and that has had a big impact on how many cars have been sold. Overall, the market is down 18.8 per cent year-to-date, which is no surprise, but most of the leading luxury brands are tracking ahead of that. One brand, remarkably, is enjoying sales growth this year.
Why? There are a number of reasons, including the proliferation of new models as well as people looking for a way to treat themselves while international travel is off the table. So, how is each major premium brand faring? Let’s take a look.
There’s a simple reason the brand with the four rings is enjoying a sales increase in 2020 - new metal. The brand has had a busy year adding new models, including the popular Audi Sport variants of many, and that has driven sales.
The new Q3 small SUV - which is now available in a Sportback body-style for the first time - has added nearly 3000 sales (2898 to be precise) to Audi’s tally alone; a more than 1000 per cent increase on 2019. Then you’ve got big sales increases for the new A1 light hatch that launched late in 2019 (it’s up 78.6%) and the updated Q7 large SUV (up 34.9%).
While sales are down, given the overall market decline, the fact BMW is less than six per cent behind its 2019 figures makes this a positive year.
Like Audi, it’s enjoying strong performance from its new models, namely the 3 Series mid-size car (up 4.8%), X1 small SUV (up 6.1%) and X7 upper-large SUV (up 31.8%). But while these are adding bulk volume, there are other new models increasing sales incrementally, namely the new 8 Series sports car and Gran Coupe sedan, and Z4 roadster, while the X6 large SUV is enjoying a strong year.
Sweden’s entrant into the luxury-car contest is having a solid year, especially against its peers - outperforming Mercedes, Jaguar, Land Rover and Lexus in terms of sales decline (albeit only selling 5994 vehicles in total).
The reason for Volvo’s good performance is simple and typically Volvo - it has a new wagon. The arrival of the V60 has seen a big sales boost (up 161.3%) as its typically loyal customers come back for a fresh model.
As the luxury market leader (notching 23,667 sales year-to-date), the three-pointed star has had the most to lose. But it has stayed ahead of the market, recording only a 9.8 per cent drop in sales amid the supply restrictions and other challenges thrown up by COVID-19.
There are some notable good news stories for Mercedes in 2020. Firstly, there’s the A-Class small car, which has recorded more than 5000 sales to enjoy a 33.2 per cent sales boost this year. Then there’s the GLC mid-size SUV which is up 35.2 per cent, while it’s large sibling, the GLE, has recorded a 69 per cent bump.
The Japanese brand is managing to stay slightly ahead of the market decline, but it hasn’t enjoyed the same success as its German competition. Sales of all of its key models are down, including the IS mid-size sedan (down 38.7%), NX mid-size SUV (down 8.1%), RX large SUV (down 24.8%) and UX small SUV (down 30.6%).
On the bright side, sales of the ES mid-sizer are only down 1.9 per cent, and it enjoyed a strong October - proving there’s still life in the luxury sedan. Meanwhile, the only Lexus model to enjoy sales growth in 2020 is the LC sports car, which is up 39.1 per cent but only accounts for 32 sales in total, so it’s tempered somewhat.
It hasn’t been a banner year for the British brands, with sales down for every model across both line-ups - with the exception of the recently launched all-new Land Rover Defender.
But the reason 2020 has been disappointing is the same reason for optimism in 2021. Both brands are turning over new or updated models for a refreshed range, and the coronavirus-induced shutdown of its factories has slowed supply.
If supply chains and production can normalise in 2021, there’s no reason that the new Defender can’t keep increasing sales, while Jaguar will have revitalised line-ups including its flagship F-Type sports car.