In March 2021, new car sales in Europe increased by 63% but the passenger car market is still well below pre-pandemic levels.
In March 2021, new passenger vehicle registrations in Europe increased by 63% compared to March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. However, the European new car market was still more than a fifth smaller than in March 2019. Diesel car sales were particularly sluggish with less than a quarter share of the total European new car sales. Battery-electric vehicles took a record 16% market share. The Volkswagen Golf was the top-selling car in Europe in March 2021 but the Peugeot 208 was Europe’s favorite car during the first quarter of 2021.
European New Car Sales Market in March 2021
According to data analyzed by JATO for 26 markets in Europe, car sales volume rose from 842,094 vehicles in March 2020 to 1,374,313 units in March 2021. The total sales volume in Q1/2021 amounted to 3,045,703 cars – an increase of 1%.
Despite this increase, Q1 2021 recorded the lowest total volume of new car registrations in Europe for a first quarter since 1986, when excluding 2020. Despite signs of recovery, the industry is still facing several challenges, including the economic fallout of the pandemic, ongoing lockdown restrictions, and lack of consumer confidence.
Registrations fell by 22% in March 2021 when compared with March 2019 – marking the lowest total volume of new cars registered since March 2013, when volume totaled just 1,337,588 units as a result of the global financial crisis. Felipe Munoz, global analyst at JATO Dynamics commented: “The European car market is still a way off from reaching pre-pandemic volumes, and governments must take further action to help boost sales and restore consumer confidence.”
Car Sales in Europe by Fuel Type in March 2021
Electric vehicles (EVs) and SUVs continued to be the main drivers of growth for the European new car market in March 2021. EVs posted a record market share of 16% in March 2021, compared to 9.7% in March 2020, and just 3.4% in March 2019. Munoz added: “Consumers are reacting positively to more extensive and competitive EV offerings. However, as these vehicles are often more expensive than ICE models, the positive impact has not yet offset the big drops seen across traditional high-emissions fuel types.”
In March 2021, diesel cars recorded their lowest market share to date at just 24%. With the European Commission continuing to introduce tougher CO2 regulations, the shift away from diesel and other high-emissions fuel types is likely to continue.
Germany was by far the largest European market for battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in 2021 (Q1).
Car Sales in Europe by Market Segment in March 2021
The market share of SUVs has also continued to grow year-on-year, from 37% in March 2019, to 40% in March 2020, and 45% in March 2021 – with notable traction in Sweden, Norway, Slovenia, and Hungary, where they gained more than 10 points of share between March 2020 and 2021.
Munoz continued: “The success of EVs and SUVs stands as a good indicator that consumer demand will soon be focused towards upcoming electric SUV models, which will be a key driver of growth for the industry moving forward.”
Furthermore, in many markets an SUV is classed as such if the manufacturer describes the car as such. As a result many crossover models and cars hardly more robust than a standard compact passenger car is classified as a SUV for registration purposes.
Best-Selling Car Models in Europe in March 2021
In the European model rankings, the Volkswagen Golf reclaimed its position as the most registered car in Europe with 26,265 units, up by 12% in March 2021. The electrified versions (PHEV and MHEV) of the Volkswagen Golf contributed to this growth, especially in Germany, where they accounted for 36% of the model’s volume. The Golf outsold the Peugeot 208 by 836 units, which was the top seller in Q1, with almost 61,000 units in total.
The Opel/Vauxhall Corsa also performed well, comfortably outselling the Renault Clio and Volkswagen Polo. The new Stellantis group had five cars on the top-ten list in March 2021 while the Volkswagen Group managed only two.
Best-Selling Electric Car Models in Europe in March 2021
The Tesla Model 3 was fourth in the model rankings in Europe in March 2021 and confirmed its position as the top-selling model in the European BEV rankings in both March and Q1/2021. The Model 3 also topped the BEV rankings in the UK, France, Norway, Italy, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland, Netherlands, Denmark, Portugal, Poland, Greece, Slovenia, Croatia, and Germany, ahead of the Volkswagen ID.3. Another non-European model which posted strong results was the Hyundai Kona, as the second most registered BEV in March 2021.
Three of the top-ten electric car models were Volkswagens to confirm the penetration of this market by VW. In Germany, the aging electric Volkswagen Up outsold both the new ID3 and ID4 models during the first quarter of 2021.
Volvo performed strongly in the plug-in hybrid market with three models among the top ten. Big subsidies in especially Germany helped sales of PHEVs despite the higher sticker prices and questionable on-road emissions.
Among the latest launches, Citroen registered 5,671 units of the C4, and the Opel Mokka took off with 5,560 units. Volkswagen registered 4,897 units and 4,817 units of the ID.3 and ID.4 respectively.