Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: Will The European New Car Market Ever Grow Again?

Matt Gasnier
by Matt Gasnier
best selling cars around the globe will the european new car market ever grow again
Car-free Paris, France.

Last time I annoyed you with my stats, we went through a worldwide whirlwind for the July 2013 Roundup. Today we focus on Europe, where apart from one main island of growth (literally and figuratively: yes I am speaking about you the UK), the new car market recession seems to know no end.

Not interested in the old, grumpy continent? That’s totally fine, I have prepared something else for you: you can check out sales stats for 176 additional countries and territories on my blog. Go on, I think you’ll like…

Back to Europe.

While the US new car market is in total euphoric mode, up 17% year-on-year in August to return to annual rates not seen since 2007, Spain has experienced its weakest month of August on record, and in France we are looking at the lowest monthly sales figure in 37 years… This is an even worse situation than in Greece, whose bankruptcy has been much publicised, but with a car market known for its volatility at its lowest in ‘only’ 26 years.

In this context, some insiders, including Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn and Ford Europe CEO Stephen Odell, don’t see a return to growth until 2016 at the very earliest. So the European recession is here to stay.

Well I will push this theory further and ask: will the Western European new car market ever grow again? Or has it reached saturation at around 12 million annual units?

More cars were scrapped than bought in Italy in 2012 for the first time since World War II…

There are a few signs on the continent that the car may not be the preferred mode of transport in the future, simply because other options, mainly public transport, offer a much cheaper and sometimes more convenient outlook. The first striking event that could announce this trend happened in 2012 in Italy: for the first time since the 2nd World War, there were fewer cars in circulation in the country than the year before. More cars were scrapped than bought. With a new car market down a further 9% in 2013, chances are this will happen again this year…

European cities are well connected, sometimes making the train a faster option than the plane.

A demographic trend is also at play in Europe, with most countries seeing their population ageing and stagnating, meaning less working people and less people in ‘real’ need of a car to commute every day. Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves, all is not doom and gloom for the European new car market and no time for car manufacturers to abandon the continent just yet!

Proof: UK sales display insolent health this year, up 10% year-on-year and, most importantly, boosted by private demand, not leases or rentals. Denmark is posting record year after record year in spite of very high taxes on the price of cars. Also, saturated markets like Canada and Australia are reaching record levels in 2013. But their geography makes public transport a challenge and keep the car essential.

Velib’ system in Paris, France. 58% of Parisian households do not own a car.

And this is the core of the European trend. The cities of Europe are extremely well-connected, both with each other and inside out, with many transport options to choose from for each trip. For example, 58% of households living in Paris do not own a car vs. 19% nationally! A very dense metro system coupled with the recent addition of electric car- and bike-share programs (autolib’ and velib’) have made this car-free situation possible.

Could the newly revitalised tramway kill the car in France?

Now let’s zoom onto France, where the tramway is making a spectacular resurgence with no less than 17 cities building a new network from scratch in the last decade.

In France, since 2000 no less than 16 cities have built a tramway network for the most part from scratch! These cities are Montpellier (2000), Orleans (2001), Nancy, Caen (2002), Bordeaux (2004), Clermont-Ferrand, Mulhouse, Valenciennes (2006), Le Mans, Nice, Toulouse (2007), Reims, Angers (2011), Brest, Dijon and Le Havre (2012) and Tours (2013). 5 more are due to receive a tramway line before 2020: Besancon, Avignon, Amiens, Lens and Toulon…

The futuristic tramway in Tours, France, inaugurated on 08/31/13

A spectacular resurgence which has almost always prompted a sharp increase in the general use of public transport in these cities: in Toulouse for example, public transport use, including but not limited to trams, has increased by 35% since 2007.

More frequent public transport use means less frequent car use, right? Not so simple.

Tallinn is the first EU capital to offer free public transport to its residents

Many studies have tried to demonstrate that the appearance of a tramway network reduces the utilisation of the car in the city concerned, but the correlation is proving relatively hard to isolate. What seems to happen is the car is less used inside these cities, or at least on the routes served by the tramway network, but still used to get to the tram or public transport hub. ‘Relay’ parking lots have had to be created at the periphery of these cities to allow commuters to park their car before they jump on public transport on their daily commute. Toulouse, the 2nd city in France for relay-parking capacity, is already saturated and has launched the creation of 4,000 additional spots.

In Tallinn, Estonia, public transport is now free for the city’s residents to encourage people to leave their car at home, or even better (worse for car manufacturers), not buy one in the first place. An interesting experiment that however shows the lengths needed to make commuters give up their car.

What about inter-city commutes and inter-regional trips? In spite of a very dense train and plane network, the car is still king by very far. Out of 100 trips of more than 100 km in France, 75 use the car, 17 the train, 6 the plane and 2 the bus.

Yes, car manufacturers can breathe a sight of relief: Europeans love cars, and are not ready to give them up (yet)!

What is your opinion? Is public transport a valid option in your city? Do you find yourself using your car less than you used to? Can you imagine a life without a car? I’m keen to hear your views so please comment on here if you want to share anything relevant to this subject.

Sources:,, La Croix,

Matt Gasnier, based in Sydney, Australia, runs a blog named Best Selling Cars Blog, dedicated to counting cars all over the world.

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9 of 41 comments
  • 99GT4.6 99GT4.6 on Sep 08, 2013

    The public transit where I live is absolutely awful. They keep cutting service while at the same time hiking the fares. A one way ride is $3! And the buses are always late or just never show up. Driving to work or college takes me 15 min. Taking the bus to college is half an hour and to work is an hour. It is also cheaper to buy gas for my Mustang than pay for the bus.

    • See 6 previous
    • 99GT4.6 99GT4.6 on Sep 09, 2013

      Our taxes are going up too. I don't believe the transit subsidy has been cut where I am. I'd say the biggest factor in the fare increases in my city is the increased labor costs from the overzealous transit union. The fare increases pay for increased (inflated) union wages and not improved service. Another part of why it takes so long to go anywhere is most of our routes aren't efficient. They snake all over the place instead of running down major streets or in one general direction.

  • Stanczyk Stanczyk on Jan 08, 2014

    ..yes, europe is getting poorer and older (and young hipsters don't care about cars anymore - they prefer .. "virtual brainwashing"..) , but it will manage .. european-cars use less fuel and there's growing "let's ride a bike" trend (urban commuter bicycles, bike rentals and .. bike lanes in big cities .. ) ... but I'm really worried about fat&lazy americans .. how the'll cope after wall-street parasites and big corporations suck-off all "blood from the system" (dollar collapse) .. yeah , .. Tata Nano "Turbo" 'll be your next Ford Mustang .. :) .. be prepared ..

  • Sgeffe Why on Earth can’t you just get the torque specs and do it yourself if you’re so-inclined?!
  • Sgeffe As was stated in another comment, the FAA nominee went down in flames. But the NTSB chairwoman certainly didn’t, and she’s certainly not qualified either!Lots of this kind of stuff going on both sides of the aisle—Ben Carson would have arguably made a better Surgeon General than HUD Secretary under Trump, for example.
  • Art Vandelay Interesting, the Polestar 2 I had as a rental utilized Android Automotive which is what GM said it is going to exclusively, yet it still offers Apple CarPlay according to this. Wonder if GM will do the same.
  • Stuart de Baker EVs just aren't ready for prime time for those with a single car and who take road trips. Being able to charge as soon as you arrive at a charging station, and even the chargers working on your car is a crapshoot. In the former case, you could have to wait for nearly an hour while someone else is charging.I also don't find EVs particularly fun to drive (I've driven a Tesla Model S and an Ionic 5.) I LOVE driving my '08 Civic (stick). I love the handling, the feel and responsiveness of the engine, the precise steering (the Michelin Pilot Ultra Sport tires help, but even with the snows on, the car is a joy). I have 152k on the clock, and hopefully another 25 years or so of driving (I was born early in the Eisenhower Administration and I have exceptionally healthy habits), and I'm going to try to keep the Civic for the duration.My Civic causes a less global warming emissions than some of these humongous battery operated trucks.
  • FreedMike They should throw in a Lordstown pickup with every purchase. Make it the “vapor twofer.”