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Four auto giants set for sales crown tussle

Foursome: A product misstep or a market winner is all that stands between the world’s four biggest automotive groups as their annual sales soar beyond 10 million.

10 million sales is the new normal for big four auto groups in leadership battle

9 Feb 2017

THE battle for world automotive sales dominance is emerging as a race in four, with the Renault Nissan Alliance – courtesy of its part acquisition of Mitsubishi Motors in May last year – creeping within striking distance of new global leader, Volkswagen, and former top dogs Toyota and General Motors.

Just 300,000 units separated top place from fourth in the 2016 sales race as the biggest automotive groups clocked up record sales around the 10 million-unit mark.

VW Group and its squadron of subsidiaries such as Audi, Skoda, Seat, Porsche and Lamborghini accumulated a record 10.3 million vehicles sales in 2016 – a rise of 3.8 per cent on 2015 – to assume the number one position for the first time, despite fallout from the dieselgate affair.

It edged out Toyota, even though the Japanese giant’s sales crept up 0.2 per cent to 10.17 million Toyota, Daihatsu and Hino vehiclesToyota was undone in its chase for a sixth successive crown by a 0.5 per cent fall in sales outside of Japan and relative weakness in China where GM and VW dominate.

GM – a long-time leader before Toyota and now VW rose to the top – scored a record 10 million sales last year, up 1.2 per cent on 2015.

It was GM’s fourth consecutive record sales year, underlining the recovery America’s number-one car-maker has made since the global financial crisis that started a decade ago.

Despite the increase, GM could only manage third place in the sales race, but its fourth quarter performance of 2.78 million vehicles puts rivals on notice that it is far from a spent force.

GM’s strength has come from its two major markets – the United States (3.04 million) and China (3.87), with the latter enjoying a 7.1 per cent sales increase in GM sales in the calendar year, despite dire warnings that the world’s biggest market was running out of steam.

Even the regular thorn in GM’s side – Europe – showed signs of a turnaround, with sales of Opel and Vauxhall vehicles increasing 4.0 per cent, thanks mainly to the arrival of the new Astra wearing its European Car of the Year badge.

However, GM’s global position is now threatened by the Renault Nissan Alliance which claimed 9.96 million sales in 2016 – just 8000 units behind GM.

The emergence of the French-Japanese group near the top of the leader board is large due to its acquisition of 34 per cent of Mitsubishi Motors and its 934,013 sales (-13 per cent).

Nissan sales rose 2.5 per cent to 5.6 million, while Group Renault sales – including those sold under the Dacia brand – achieve 3.2 million registrations.

The overall Renault Nissan tally also included 284,807 Lada vehicles made in Russia by Avtovaz, which is 51 per cent owned by Renault.

While the new “big four” turned on record performances, Ford Motor Company remained anchored on about 6.65 million sales, half of which came from its North American home ground.

Its global market share slipped 0.1 per cent, despite 13.6 per cent sales growth in China where its share grew two-tenths to 5.2 per cent.

This growth there has been largely driven by the Australian-developed, Focus-based Escort that has emerged as the Blue Oval’s top seller in China.

South Korea’s Hyundai Motor and its subsidiary Kia Motors suffered a sales slip, down from a combined 8.01 million units in 2015 to 7.88 million last year.

Hyundai led the way with 4.86 million sales, with Kia on 3.02 million.

The drop has been greeted by a company-wide ban on salary rises for executives this year as it hopes to cut costs and claw sales up to 8.25 million units in 2017.

Another of the big losers of 2016 was Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) which sold 4.7 million vehicles for the 12 months, down 3.0 per cent on 2015.

In the US, FCA suffered a 10 per cent decline, reflected by sales downturns for its Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat and Alfa Romeo brands. Only Jeep (926,376, +6.0%) and RAM (545,851, +11%) made headway.

The performance casts doubt on FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne’s plan to achieve seven million units by 2018.

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