The higher growth rates expected for the coming months should not be overestimated against the backdrop of the extremely low sales figures during the lockdown phase in spring of 2020.
The higher growth rates expected for the coming months should not be overestimated against the backdrop of the extremely low sales figures during the lockdown phase in spring of 2020.
( Source: gemeinfrei / Pixabay)

GLOBAL CAR BUSINESS European passenger car market slumped by a quarter in 2020

Editor: Nicole Kareta

The coronavirus crisis had a massive impact on international markets in 2020. Sales fell in almost all countries around the world, in some cases drastically. In 2021, international markets are expected to grow across the board but will not reach the pre-coronavirus level overall.

Of the three major sales regions, Europe (EU27 & EFTA & UK) suffered the biggest drop of approximately a quarter. In the USA, sales fell by double digits. Although the Chinese market recovered comparatively quickly, it was still well below the prior year’s level.

In Europe, a total of just under 12.0 million new passenger cars were registered in 2020 – 3.8 million or almost a quarter fewer (down 24 % ) than in the previous year. The five largest markets all recorded double-digit declines. In Germany, new registrations fell by almost a fifth (down 19 %). In France, sales volumes fell by a quarter (down 25 %). In Italy (down 28 %), the United Kingdom (down 29 %) and Spain (down 32 %), almost a third fewer cars were registered in each country. All countries that are part of the European market closed 2020 with a negative balance. Although there have been signs of a slight recovery in recent months, passenger car sales in Europe were still 4 % below the previous year's level in December, with just over 1.2 million units sold.

In the USA, the light vehicle market (cars and light trucks) closed 2020 with just under 14.5 million vehicles sold (down 15 %). This was the first time since 2012 that the US market did not exceed the 15 million mark. Car sales were down 28 %, while sales in the light truck segment, which now accounts for 76 % of the light vehicle market, were down 10 %. In December, 1.6 million light vehicles were sold (up 6 %).

China has largely emerged from the coronavirus pandemic and its severe impact on automotive sales. Thanks to a rapid recovery, the decline in 2020 was kept to 6 % (19.8 million units). In December, 2.3 million vehicles went to Chinese customers. This is an increase of 7 % year-on-year and was the eighth consecutive monthly increase.

In 2020, the Japanese new car market remained 11 % below the previous year's result, with 3.8 million passenger cars sold. This was the first time since 2011 that sales fell below the 4 million mark. In December, sales were 315,200 units; 11 % more than in the same month of the previous year.

In Russia, light vehicle sales fell 9 % last year to 1.6 million units. The Indian passenger car market declined significantly in 2020. Although it recorded strong growth in some areas in the second half of the year, it was unable to make up for the losses incurred during the lockdown months. With a total of 2.4 million new vehicles (down 18 %), sales fell to a 10-year low. In December, demand returned to 14 % above the previous year's level (253,000 units). In Brazil, the light vehicle market recorded a significant decline overall in 2020. New vehicle sales fell by almost 27 % to 2.0 million units. This abruptly ended a three-year recovery phase. In December, sales were down 8 % (233,000 units).

The global passenger car market in figures.
The global passenger car market in figures.
(Source: VDA)

The assumption is that the market situation will slowly improve this year. However, the declines of 2020 will not be fully offset. The higher growth rates expected for the coming months should not be overestimated against the backdrop of the extremely low sales figures during the lockdown phase in spring of 2020. This is likely to be primarily a "technical upswing." Vehicle sales in the respective markets - with the exception of China - will only slowly approach their respective pre-crisis levels. For Europe, growth of 12 % to 13.4 million new vehicles is expected in 2021. In the USA, sales are expected to increase by 9 % in 2021 (15.8 million units). The Chinese passenger car market will exceed its pre-coronavirus levels, with 21.4 million units (up 8 %). The global passenger car market is therefore expected to grow by 9 % this year to 73.8 million - following a 15 % slump in 2020. However, this sales volume is still well below the pre-coronavirus level.

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