Residuals in the high-volume lower medium and upper medium segments have declined most of all. For example, in the lower medium group only the Opel Astra and Audi A3 registered average value increases in both petrol and diesel categories over the past year.
The residual figures - covering average trade values for three-year-old passenger cars and collated by price and sales experts eurotaxGlass's - are exclusively revealed in this issue of Fleet News Europe.
Once again, there is a clear divide between the volume and premium segments of the upper medium sector. Cars like the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-class and BMW 3-series continue to add value, while midmarket cars like the Renault Laguna and Peugeot 406 struggle.
Overall, lower medium petrol and diesels are down 1.6% and 2.5% respectively, while upper medium petrol and diesel values are down 1% and 2.6% respectively.
But within these figures there are some eyecatching individual stories of success and failure. The average residual values of petrol Nissan Primeras and Renault Lagunas are down more than 7% across Europe over the past 12 months, while Citroen Xantia diesels are down almost 10%. Similarly, Citroen Xsara diesels and petrol versions have slumped 9.1% and 7.8% respectively.
In the upper medium segment, only the Mercedes-Benz C-class has improved both diesel and petrol residuals. Some industry analysts debate whether the C-class can be classified as an upper medium car at all, rating it instead as an executive saloon.
'Fleet sectors are struggling because of the high volume of cars coming onto the market,' said Rick Yarrow, managing director of Automotive Directions, the company behind eurocarprice.com that compiles the eurotaxGlass's index. 'In markets where supply is lower - such as the executive class - prices are strong.'
But the values may have also suffered from lack of new launches in the lower medium sector. Most of the cars that experienced falls over the 12 month period were comparatively old - they include the Xsara, Peugeot 306, Fiat Brava, Renault Megane and Toyota Corolla. Most of these vehicles have now been replaced.
But it is in the upper medium sector that the real battle for the hearts and minds of European fleets is taking place. As yet, volume manufacturers have failed to stop the long-term slide away from their own models to premium brands like BMW, Audi, Alfa Romeo, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and Volvo.
European fleets are continuing to find that higher residuals make premium models at least as cost-effective as volume models. New launches like the Ford Mondeo, Renault Laguna and VW Passat have tried to stem this with massively improved quality, specification and comfort, but as yet there are few signs that they are stemming the flow to premium brands.
Next year Nissan (with the Primera) and Opel (with the Vectra) will join the battle, but BMW, Audi and other premium brands remain confident.
'It's make or break time for volume models in this crucial fleet segment,' said a senior manager at Ford, who declined to be named. 'We are proud of the Mondeo and pleased with its progress, but we all want to see more evidence that there's a long term future for middle market brands in the upper medium segment.
'Clearly people are looking for alternatives to the four/five-door 1.8-litre medium saloon. Some are trading down to a lower medium car. Some are opting for an MPV. Some want four-wheel drive. And quite a few want to trade up to, say, a premium German competitor.
'I think our cars are on a par with those premium brands, and now we have to make sure they are as desirable. One of the ways to achieve that is by building good residual values across Europe - in Germany, France, UK, Belgium and the Netherlands.'
Upper medium cars are also experiencing wildly different residual results in different European markets. For example, upper medium diesels have lost 13.3% of their value in Italy over the past year, while they're up 4.2% in Britain and 7.5% in Poland.
Diesel's success takes toll on RVs
THE huge success of the diesel car market in Europe is beginning to take its toll on second-hand values.
Although fuel-efficient diesels have long achieved lower depreciation rates than their petrol equivalents, the gap between the two is now narrowing, according to the new figures from eurotaxGlass's.
Over the past year, three-year-old diesel cars in all segments have seen values drop 2.3%, while petrol models have dropped just 0.9%.
Diesels are still making good money - but the margin of superiority over petrol is decreasing.
The trend is most noticeable in the small car sector, where petrol versions of the Citroen Saxo and the Volkswagen Polo are doing particularly well. Diesel versions of the Opel Corsa, Renault Clio and SEAT Ibiza are showing some of the biggest declines.
Predictably, the problem is one of oversupply. Sky-high new sales of top diesel models - particularly in countries like France and Spain - is beginning to create an oversupply of used diesels.
The only segment to hold out against this trend is the executive market, where diesels are still in high demand.
Technological improvements to diesel cars in the BMW 5-series segment have long banished the top end of the market's opposition to oil burners. This has helped persuade marques like Jaguar and Saab to plan introductions of diesel versions.
Among the countries achieving the best three-year residuals on diesel models are Portugal (51%), Poland (47%), Hungary (54%), and Czech Republic (48%). At the bottom end of the market are Britain (36%) and Switzerland (35%).
The British Government still retains an open anti-diesel tax strategy because it believes there are still health doubts over the fuel.
Diesel values are falling fastest in the supermini, lower medium and upper medium sectors.
'The diesel market is increasing as oil-burning technology gets ever more advanced,' said Martin Ward, CAP international research manager.
'There are still plenty of smelly, polluting diesels on the world's roads, but as time goes on the numbers of these is decreasing.
'The majority of European markets can still absorb the diesel-engined cars from the used market - but the worry is that as more new examples are sold, so there may not be sufficient demand for extra used diesels in coming years. This may be particularly true in Britain, which cannot export its excess right-hand drive used diesels to left-hand drive markets if it experiences over-supply in the market.'
Only four countries show increase
ONLY four European countries out of 13 have noted residual value increases for all car segments over the past 12 months.
The new eurotaxGlass's survey shows that trade values have increased in Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany and The Netherlands.
For the whole of western Europe the average residual value for three-year-old cars has fallen by 1.3%. Out of the four countries where they have risen, only Germany saw values increase over the last quarter.
But an expert at eurotaxGlass's said the high prices for three-year-old cars in Germany do not paint an accurate picture of the country's used car market.
Chief information officer Hubert Jung said the country is suffering from a saturated used car market and that used car prices are currently too high - a situation that must change.
Jung said: 'Germany has high used car prices only because dealers have not reacted to the current market situation and lowered those prices. These cars are too expensive and we have a saturated market because no one is buying them.
'The situation will have to change and I am sure that by next spring the prices for three-year-old cars in Germany will have fallen.'
Elsewhere, the study found, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Poland noted the biggest reductions in residual values over the past 12 months.
Based on eurotaxGlass's values in October 2001, an average vehicle in western Europe has a value of 38.4% of its original price compared to 39.6% in October 2000. (November 2001)