As predicted last year, early 2011 has all been about fleet sales. The fleet proportion in March rose to 45.4%, considerably higher even than before the financial crisis - the corresponding figure for March 2007 was 42.2%).
Even when you look at absolute numbers, the position is relatively healthy: fleet sales in March 2011 were 12.4% below March 2007, compared to a retail drop of 23.0%. Nor is this only a factor in March: for the first quarter as a whole, fleet is taking a bigger share of the market than in 2007 (49.3% vs. 47.5%).
At a manufacturer level, Ford just managed to stay ahead of Vauxhall both for the month and the quarter.
However, the Year to Date margin was less than 100 units – in a by-election, they would have demanded a recount. It would have been fascinating to hear the conversations in the sales department of the two manufacturers as the last day of the month approached.
Ford has been anxiously waiting for free supply of the vital new Focus, the car that will determine its fleet fortunes for the coming years. It will be interesting to see how its marketing approach works – the TV adverts seem to be saying, “Buy all this technology and you get a free car attached”.
At a manufacturer level, there have been big increases for BMW and Mercedes. Interestingly, the increases have not come from all-new models: both the BMW 3 Series (up 23.2% in March) and the Mercedes C Class (up 53.3% in March) had big increases.
The 3 Series is now well ahead of the Mondeo in fleet sales, and is now second only to the Insignia in terms of D-segment sales. In fact the Insignia was the second best selling fleet car for the month, with sales up a spectacular 147% over March 2010.
Given the run out of the old Vectra and the crisis surrounding the company in 2009/2010, it is very hard to say what the natural sales level is for the Insignia, although third best selling fleet car in March seems rather a high position.
The march of VW and Audi is now also being joined by Skoda, whose registrations jumped by 68.6% in March. Skoda has announced hugely ambitious sales targets, with global sales doubling to 1.5 million in five years and UK sales set also to double to 80,000 in a similar timeframe.
With value brands increasing at one end and premium brands pushing at the other, it is going to be tough for the mid-market brands.