The continent that spawned microscopic postwar bubble cars and made the “city car” segment a thing is moving ever further away from its automotive past. European buyers, perhaps influenced by their American counterparts, are beginning to realize they truly can have it all, adjusting their buying habits accordingly.
Of course, by “all,” we mean all the cargo space.
According to Autocar, the first half of 2018 saw European buyers purchase more utility vehicles than ever before. It helped that Europeans are on a bit of a buying tear — with 8.66 million registrations over the first six months of 2018, the industry grew 2.4 percent compared to the first half of 2017.
Looking closer at the numbers, the growth is all about SUVs. Passenger car sales fell 4 percent in the first half, but SUV sales grew 24 percent. This places the market share of cars at just a hair under 40 percent. Fueling the demand in commodious, high-riding vehicles are a slew of recent model introductions, among them the Volkswagen T-Roc, which Americans cannot have. (We’ll see a right-sized U.S. small crossover in the coming year or so.)
While a post-Dieselgate VW made crossovers and SUVs the centerpiece of its American sales strategy, the same product push is paying off on the Continent. The brand’s utility vehicle sales rose 42 percent in the first half.
Unlike in the U.S., passenger cars still top the sales sheet, but crossovers are making inroads into the upper echelon. Nissan’s Qashqai (Rogue Sport) is Europe’s fifth best-selling vehicle, behind the Volkswagen Golf, Renault Clio, VW Polo, and Ford Fiesta. In seventh place sits the Volkswagen Tiguan, while the Renault Captur crossover places ninth.
Compare this to U.S. sales in the first half of 2018, where six of the top 10 best-selling vehicles were pickups, SUVs, or crossovers. Only the Toyota Camry, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Honda Accord crack that upper rank, in sixth, seventh, eighth, and tenth place, respectively.
This isn’t the only manner in which Europe’s auto landscape is beginning to emulate the States. MPVs, or small minivan-type vehicles, are sinking fast. Sales of that segment sank 23 percent over the first half of the year. Joining the little vans in their death plunge is the increasingly unpopular diesel engine.
European automakers have more or less agreed that diesel, once the majority propulsion source of new cars, should give way to more efficient gasoline engines and electric (or electrified) powertrains. After shrinking by 17 percent compared to the first half of 2017, diesel vehicles accounted for just 37 percent of new vehicle sales this year. At the same time, registrations of alternatively fueled vehicles (AFVs) rose 31 percent. Hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery-electric vehicles made up 5.4 percent of new vehicle purchases this year.
Looking at these figures, it’s no wonder Mercedes-Benz took one look at the Nissan Navara pickup and said, “Make us one of those.”