2019 (Full Year) Europe: Car Sales and Market Analysis

The European new car market outperformed the global market in 2019 with SUVs particularly popular. Electrified cars gained market share.

SUVs took a 38% market share in Europe in 2019

In full-year 2019, the European new car market outperformed the global market with sales up by 1.1% to the highest number of new passenger vehicle registrations in twelve years. Strong sales in December 2019 turned the total market for the full year 2019 positive but is likely to have a negative effect on car sales in Europe at the start of 2020. Although electrified vehicle registrations hit a record 1.28 million in Europe, these lower emission cars hardly made up for the increased popularity of SUVs that took a record 38% of the total European new car market in 2019.

European Car Sales Outperformed the Global Market in 2019

Trend in European new car sales since 2010

According to JATO, the turbulence that hit the global auto industry in 2019 was not strong enough to damage the demand for new cars in Europe. In fact, the volume of vehicle sales increased by 1.1% for the passenger car market in the European Union (EU). This is in contrast to the negative results experienced in China and the USA, where sales fell by 8% and 2% respectively.

In addition, 2019 was the fifth consecutive year of growth for Europe, and the highest result seen since 2007 when the market exceeded the 16 million units mark. In total, 15,757,412 new cars were registered last year – 171,452 more registrations than in 2018.

However, these positive results can be largely explained by purchases made in December to get ahead of the new EU emissions regulations that took effect at the beginning of 2020. In fact, the year-to-date figures from January to November 2019 indicate that registrations had actually decreased by 0.4%. The last-minute actions to replace gas-guzzling vehicles deemed unacceptable under EU emissions regulations, in December pushed the cumulative figures into the positive.

Felipe Munoz, global analyst at JATO Dynamics, commented: “Despite the artificial effect of the December figures, it is important to note that car registrations in Europe remained stable until November. Last year was not an easy period for the industry, but Europe demonstrated its strength despite the challenges. The question is now whether this strength will continue under even tougher regulations”.

European New Car Market by Country in 2019

European new car sales per country in 2019

Jato data shows that four markets listed record numbers for registrations in 2019. Poland became Europe’s sixth-largest market outselling Belgium. Hungary also experienced the best results since 2007; Romania and Croatia beat records since 2008; and Germany saw the highest levels of registrations since 2009.

It wasn’t good news across every market however, as 12 countries posted a decline in figures in comparison to 2018, including the UK and Spain. Munoz noted: “The good results can be partially explained by better deals and, crucially, more business registrations which increased by 4%, counting for 58% of the market. It’s worth remembering that self-registrations make up a large part of business registrations .”

See 2019 (Full Year) Europe: Car Sales Per EU and EFTA Country for full statistics.

Growth in Electrified Car Sales in Europe in 2019

European new car sales by fuel type in 2019

Electrified vehicles made up 8.1% of total registrations, setting a new world record for this type of car. Volume totaled 1,277,908 units, up by 35% compared to 2018. This strong growth contrasts with the 12% decline posted by diesel car registrations, and the timid growth of 5% recorded by gasoline cars. Munoz notes: “The increasing sales of electrified cars in Europe solidifies their key position in the global market. In addition to Europe’s importance as a development hub, it is now the most significant market for EV penetration, only behind Japan and its popular hybrids.”

However, pure battery-electric cars accounted for only 28% of all EV registrations, totaling 356,300 units. They made up 2.3% of total passenger car registrations in Europe – a record for this kind of vehicle. China was the only market to surpass these rates, and these figures were higher than the total BEVs sold in the USA.

See 2019 (Full Year) Europe: Electric Car Sales per EU Country for more details.

Top-Selling Electric Car Brands in Europe in 2019 (Full Year)

Top selling electrified cars in Europe in 2019

According to Jato, Tesla is a key contributor to the strong growth of electric car sales in Europe in 2019. The Model 3 achieved enormous levels of success during its first year in the market and became the top-selling pure electric car. The brand registered more than 95,000 units of this midsize premium sedan, landing in 51st position in the overall model ranking.

Munoz stated: “There is no doubt that the Model 3 disrupted the European market by becoming the top-selling electric car and outselling other key premium models. However, we have to consider that it is a sedan, which is not necessarily the body-type that consumers are looking for. Its success will only be fairly measured when the electric SUVs hit the market, and consumers have more choice.”

Other BEVs that shone in 2019 were the Renault Zoe, BMW i3, Hyundai Kona, Audi E-Tron and Jaguar I-Pace.

The hybrid market continued to be dominated by Toyota, which controlled 70% of the registrations for this market when combined with Lexus. However, Toyota lost market share due to the outstanding results of Mercedes and Land Rover, whose hybrids and mild hybrids hit 86,700 registrations.

Only two manufacturers, Tesla and Toyota, had over half of their total registrations comprise of electrified car registrations. They were followed by JLR, Hyundai-Kia, Honda and Nissan Group. These cars counted for 2% of Volkswagen Group total registrations, 3% of Renault Group, and 0.2% of PSA. Munoz stated: “While the EV market is undoubtedly growing, we are still a long way off from the full electrification of carmakers’ fleets. Europe’s top-selling car groups did not produce the expected mix that the industry was anticipating.”

However, DriveElectric predicts that nearly 100,000 electric cars will be sold in the UK in 2020 – a 260% increase in volume over 2019.

Increasing Popularity of SUVs in Europe in 2019

European new car market by car size or class segment in 2019

The SUV segment experienced the seventh consecutive year of double-digit growth in 2019 with 38% of the total market. Registrations totaled 6,030,481 units, up by 12% – this is the first time these registrations exceed the six-million-unit mark. But while the SUVs gained 3.6 points of share compared to 2018, the subcompacts, MPVs, compacts and executive cars lost a combined 3.6 points.

SUVs are a key driver of growth for volume and profits and are therefore highly important for the strength of car makers in Europe. SUVs gained the most market share at Volkswagen Group, where their share within the group sales increased by 8.7 points, followed by Volvo (+8.2 points), and Suzuki (+6.5 points). Volkswagen’s assertive approach is paying off as it registered 1.38 million units, an increase of 37% from 2018, and became the only carmaker to sell more than one million SUVs in Europe.

Volume increased at a double-digit rate for small and compact SUVs, which were led by the Renault Captur and Volkswagen Tiguan respectively. The premium category was led by the BMW X1, despite losing traction to the Audi Q3 and Volvo XC40, the second and third best-selling premium SUVs.

Top Selling car brands and models in Europe in 2019

The continuous rise of SUVs comes at the expense of registrations for traditional cars in Europe, with SUVs outselling hatchbacks and sedans outselling MPVs for the first time. Munoz commented: “The continued success of SUVs is reshaping the car industry in Europe. This represents new challenges, including how the industry will meet increasingly tough emissions targets.” 

It increasingly seems that EU fines for high emissions will have a bigger effect on boosting electric car sales in Europe in 2020 than government tax incentives.

European Car Sales Statistics for 2019 (Full Year)