Global sales analysis 2021: winners and losers
12 February 2022 - Autocar
The car industry is making a strong recovery from the chaos of Covid-19, even though the chips are down, as electrification drives change
Sales of new cars made a strong recovery in 2021, with seven of the world’s top 10 markets recording more sales than in pandemic-ravaged 2020. Given that the flow of cars from factories was interrupted by a global shortage of semiconductors, this is a welcome ray of light in an otherwise dark period for the car industry.
“The global markets stabilised in 2021, which, considering that the pandemic and the chip shortage combined for a negative effect, is overall an okay result – although the difference with pre-pandemic levels is still around 10 million units fewer,” says Felipe Munoz, senior analyst at data firm Jato Dynamics.
Toyota consolidated its spot as the number-one global car maker ahead of Volkswagen, while BMW overtook Mercedes-Benz to assume leadership of the premium segment for the first time in six years.
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Meanwhile, Tesla continued to shake up the established order; just four years after its launch, the £40,000 Model 3 EV broke into the world’s top five best-selling cars, mixing it with names like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, which have a half-century each on the market.
China still top dog; signs of recovery; and boom in Canada
China comfortably remained the world’s biggest market for new cars in 2021, staying ahead of the US thanks to the popularity of EVs, while Japan retained the number-three slot.
The bulk of markets recovered slightly in 2021, despite the twin threats of Covid-19 and the global shortage of semiconductors, with standout growth in India and Canada.
In fact, Canada’s significant 7% increase pushed it into the number-six spot, pushing the UK down one compared with 2020.
For a country with about half the population of France and the UK, it’s punching well above its weight.
“The chip shortage is having pretty much the same impact as the pandemic.
While the industry was recovering from the lockdowns in early 2021, the semiconductor shortage arrived to offset the recovery from the pandemic. At the end. of 2021, the global sales total was pretty similar to that from 2020.”
Europe slammed by Covid-19 and semiconductor shortage
New car sales in Europe set an unenviable record last year – the worst for 36 years – as the market slumped to a level notseen since 1985. Overall volume dropped by 1.7% from 2020, which was already a very bad year.
Germany spearheaded the decline, down 10.1%, largely due to the slump in production of key models by Volkswagen, which also slowed progress in the penetration of the EV market – one of the few sectors in which sales grew for other brands.
Stellantis was a beneficiary of the growing EV market, meanwhile, as it gained traction in this important segment. The UK was negatively affected by both the chip crisis and consumer uncertainty, although on the upside, it surpassed France to become the second-largest EV market in Europe.
“In Europe, the chip shortage affected the availability of new cars, while manufacturers prioritised chips for the most profitable and incentivised cars: SUVs and EVs. But these cars aren’t the most affordable ones. As long as Europe doesn’t have genuinely affordable EVs, growth won’t be enough to offset big drops in diesel and petrol car sales.”
Ford Mustang wins among sports cars and coupés
A messy year for sports cars and coupés resulted in honours even among the top 20 models: half of them increased sales while the other half lost sales.
The Ford Mustang remained the best-selling coupé, despite a 17% plunge, including a weak performance in China; while a strong showing from the rejuvenated BMW 4 Series had it close the gap on America’s icon. It looks like the 4 Series stole some sales from the older 2 Series, however, as that suffered a 50% drop. The new mid-engined Corvette enjoyed strong sales and eclipsed the 911, while its Chevrolet stablemate, the Camaro, fell further than its Mustang rival.
BMW overtakes Mercedes to lead the premium cohort
BMW regained the premium-brand crown for the first time since 2015, selling 109,000 more cars than Mercedes-Benz. Bucking the general trend, BMW actually raised sales last year, while Mercedes, Audi, Lexus and Cadillac all fell back. Mercedes was especially affected by the semiconductor shortage and overall lost 210,000 sales compared with 2020. Hyundai’s Genesis marque arrived with a bang, selling 195,000 cars in its first year of going global, closing the gap on Porsche. Worryingly, sales of premium cars in the world’s biggest market for such things, China, fell back 10%. At least this was partly compensated by a 7% increase in the US.
“Our figures show that premium car demand fell by 3%, while mainstream brands grew by 3%. The chip shortage could have been more visible in top-end cars.”
The Rise of the RAV4
It may have its origin in the US, but the SUV segment was dominated by the Japanese last year. The Toyota RAV4 was the global number one, with 965,000 sales, followed by the HondaCR-V on 713,000. These cars appeal across continents, fulfilling a role as rugged(ish) family haulers.
Despite stability for Jeep, which sold 1.22m SUVs last year, it’s still beaten by Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Ford and Kia.
“The Toyota RAV4 keeps leading thanks to its strong presence in the US and China and increasing popularity in Europe. In 2018 it was only the 33rd best-selling SUV and last year it had risen to only 14th.”
New Land Rover Defender makes modest start to its career
JATO ANALYSIS“It was good but not excellent, with 45,700 sales, making it Land Rover’s third best-selling model.”
Toyota still the best-selling brand globally; Hyundai makes significant gain
Toyota consolidated its best-seller spot with an outstanding 7.3m cars sold globally last year – widening the sales lead over Volkswagen to 2.78m, up from 1.86m.
It might be significant that Toyota’s hybrid models are a more palatable global alternative than Volkswagen’s early-adopter big bet on battery-electric powertrains.
Hyundai also performed spectacularly, jumping ahead of Nissan and Ford to become the global number four.
Hyundai’s big push into EVs seems to be paying off in a way that it isn’t yet for Volkswagen.
“Toyota has a stronger presence in North America, while Volkswagen doesn’t, and Volkswagen suffered more from the drop of the European market, where Toyota isn’t as big a seller.”
Model 3 smashes allcomers
Tesla had a splendid 2021, with two cars in the global EV top 10 and the enormous popularity of the Tesla Model 3 saloon pushing it into the overall top 10 for the first time.
Given the Model 3’s £40k price tag, it does exceptionally well to outsell low-cost China only EVs like the Hongguang Mini EV and is showing the way to higher-tech rivals like the Renault Zoe and the Volkswagen ID 3. It’s early days for the ID 3, but the Model 3 is outselling it by nearly eight to one.
Ford’s Mustang Mach-E SUV made its debut with a very solid 54,900 sales – not quite enough to break into the global EV top 10, but more affordable versions are due this year, which should lift sales.
EV adoption continues at a rapid rate
Consumers in China are adopting electric micro-mobility vehicles, so EVs really are for everybody there, which isn’t the case in the US or in Europe.
Q&A Felipe Munoz, Senior Analyst, JATO Dynamics
Is Tesla still the top EV brand?
“By far. It became the reference brand for EVs. When someone in Europe, the US or China thinks of an EV, Tesla most probably comes to mind.”
How did Volkswagen fare with ID 3 and ID 4?
“They did a good job, but growth should have been bigger. Last year was the year when EVs finally took off, so all brands posted growth. However, not all increased as much as some would expect from such a dynamic situation. The ID 3 and ID 4 are there: they sell, because they’re Volkswagens, but they need more.”
Has the gamble on EVs worked for Volkswagen?
“We still need to wait to determine whether the bet has paid off. In terms of awareness, it’s clearly working, because now the Volkswagen Group has something to say in the EV world, as the third-largest EV seller. However, I’m afraid it still needs much more volume to break even.”
In which regions is the ID 3 selling well?
“It’s good in Europe, although it hasn’t proven to be as successful as the Golf was some years ago. The market has changed and the Tesla Model 3 arrived first. And it’s not good in China, where hatchbacks have never been popular.”
How are the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe faring?
“They’re holding on but obviously lost ground due to more competition. This trend should continue in 2022, as they won’t get an all-new generation soon and they don’t have an SUV model.”
Stellantis strong in Europe and Americas but weak in Asia in its first full year of operation
Highlights for Stellantis (the huge conglomeration of FCA and PSA) in its first full year of operation were five of the top 10 best-selling models in Europe and increased popularity in EV markets.
The renewal of some of its key models (like the Peugeot 208) paid off, and it massively grew in South America while maintaining its significant position in the absolutely vital market of North America.
Four of the group’s top five models are US-focused: the Ram 1500 pick-up truck and three Jeep SUVs. However, other parts of the world proved challenging – most notably Asia, where Stellantis didn’t improve its presence, particularly in the growing Chinese and Indian markets, which isn’t ideal.
“We still need to see the financial results, but it’s probably still a little too early this year to see whether the merger of Fiat-Chrysler and Peugeot-Citroën will have a positive impact on profitability.”
Tesla stays strong in US and Europe while growing enormously in China
China drove most of the growth of Tesla in 2021, as the popularity of the Model 3 was boosted by local production, while the launch of the Model Y added further impetus.
Tesla set a new sales record in its home market, although its growth there wasn’t as strong as in China, as the number of EV early-adopters in the US is possibly starting to tail off.
In fact, demand in China for Tesla’s new compact crossover was so strong that volumes there were equal to those in the US.
Europe also contributed, but Tesla might ultimately be held back there, because Europeans prefer hatchbacks to saloons.
“The Model 3 is a best-seller for several reasons. It’s the reference model and the brand has become trendy. Plus, more affordable versions hit the market and it was available in more markets. Significantly, availability wasn’t as affected by the chip shortage as it was for other cars.”
Corolla best-seller as Japanese dominate
These are the powerhouse car models that are household names across the globe and are mostly designed and built by Japanese firms – namely Toyota, Honda and Nissan.
Remarkably, seven of the top 10 best-selling models globally are Japanese, topped by the Toyota Corolla, now in its 12th generation. Japanese manufacturers own the title to ‘world car’ – a concept that they can claim to have perfected (and possibly invented).
It’s a warning shot to European companies, as staples like the Volkswagen Golf don’t even make the top 10.
There is competition on the horizon for the Japanese, though, in the shape of electric cars.
The American Tesla Model 3, for example, has hopped into the number-five slot in the space of only four years, while the cheap as-chips Wuling Hongguang Mini EV from China has joined the list.
The growing demand for electric cars suggests that others will follow in future, especially as the Chinese look outward.