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Market Insight: Euro lights set to shine

Light fantastic: Peugeot hopes to achieve up to 1800 new registrations of its redesigned 208 in its first 12 months on sale.

New entrants, future models, strong market point to European light-car sales growth

21 Sep 2012

EUROPEAN light cars are back in the spotlight with the release this week of the Peugeot 208 and Volkswagen Up, coming hot on the heels of the Opel Corsa on sale from this month and news that other new entrants, such as Renault with a full-blown Clio range, are in the pipeline for Australia.

While the sub-$15,000 Up primarily takes aim at Asian rivals and sits below the German brand’s well-established light-car contender, the Polo, the new 208 slots straight into Polo turf with an $18,490 starting price and a highly specified range that travels through to $26,490.

On price, this places it above the $16,990 Polo Trendline 1.4 manual, the opening gambit in a range that tops out at $28,990 for the hot five-door GTI, while the smaller collection of Opel’s Corsa variants at launch retails for between $16,490 and $20,990.

As Renault sticks with higher-priced limited-edition RS variants of Clio until next year’s fourth-generation model heralds a broader range – and as it prepares to introduce the little Zoe EV here, too – Citroen is also likely to increase the presence of its C3 and more upmarket DS3 early next year as it switches distribution channels to the same importer as Peugeot.

128 center imageFrom top: Volkswagen Up and Polo Opel Corsa Citroen C3 Renaul Clio Fiat 500 Alfa Romeo MiTo Audi A1.

Similarly, the recent move of Fiat and Alfa Romeo into factory distributor Fiat Chrysler Australia Group, which has vowed to increase sales of the two Italian brands, bodes well for the Fiat 500 and Alfa Romeo MiTo.

Indeed, the new company has identified a sub-$20,000 Fiat 500 as being a top priority for the brand.

Not to be outdone, Volkswagen Group Australia has cut prices and added equipment to Polo this year, and has thrown considerable weight behind sister brand Skoda with a broader Fabia range launched in June, headlined by the RS hot hatch.

Other notable German-bred models include Ford’s Fiesta and baseline markers from the Polo-based Audi A1 and BMW-built Mini lines, while BMW itself is preparing an assault on the sub-1-Series prestige light-car space with a range of models based on its new UKL front-wheel-drive architecture, as previewed with the Active Tourer concept debuting at next week’s Paris motor show.

Daimler is also actively working on new-generation and all-new Smart models, sharing resources with Renault in a development program that has compact vehicles at its core.

So what is still only a tiny corner of the light-car segment has healthy conditions and a positive outlook with new nameplates and variants, favourable exchange rates and increasingly aggressive actions in the marketplace, all of which serve to draw in more buyers from mainstream circles and/or larger vehicles.

To the end of August, total light-car sales as classified by VFACTS were up 0.9 per cent on the same period last year – not a major advance by any means, but accounting for no fewer than 90,986 registrations and 12.5 per cent of the entire new-vehicle market, second only to the evergreen small-car segment.

Although down 14.2 per cent year to date (to 7109 units), Ford’s Thai-built Fiesta is by far and away the biggest-selling European-developed light car in the land – aided, in part, by free trade between Thailand and Australia, favourable fleet purchasing policies, a broad model range and keen pricing that was earlier this month slashed to as low as $15,490 at the entry level.

Among the Euro marques, the benchmark Polo is running at 3407 sales YTD (up 5.1 per cent), the 208’s predecessor – 207 – has almost run dry at 605 units (down 36.9 per cent), Skoda has ramped up to 543 Fabia sales, Fiat has shifted 328 500s (including Abarth), Citroen has found 240 homes for C3/DS3 and MiTo has only just cracked the ton with 115 sales YTD after 25 were sold last month.

Smart has sold 99 ForTwos for the year, Renault has dispatched 43 high-performance limited-edition versions of its Clio, and the separately classified A1 and Mini Cooper have recorded, respectively, sales of 1189 (including 512 over the past two months) and 955 (including Clubman).

Peugeot has set down a target of up to 1800 sales of the 208 in its first 12 months, and although Opel has not divulged specific figures for Corsa, the target for the brand as a whole is at least 15,000 by 2015.

The larger Astra will be expected to account for at least half of those, leaving Corsa to pick up around a third – or some 5000 units.

Toyota (Yaris), Mazda (Mazda2), Holden (Barina), Hyundai (i20) and Suzuki (Swift) routinely rack up more than 1000 new registrations a month, and are the prime movers behind the big sales volume in the light-car segment that covers around 30 nameplates.

Yet the unrelenting drive among the big European brands to develop and produce smaller city cars for global consumption is sure to see the segment grow, with the ‘premium light’ content becoming much more significant in the not-too-distant future.

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