Did key European new-car markets return to growth in April?

09 May 2024

April was an important month for major European new-car markets, but did figures improve after the declines in March? Autovista24 special content editor Phil Curry analyses the data.

The automotive industries in France, Italy and Spain were hoping for registration numbers to bounce back in April. This would show that external factors were responsible for the declines in March.

With Easter occurring earlier in 2024, March was always likely to be a struggle, due to a discrepancy in working days. Therefore, it was critical for markets to return to growth in April, otherwise the outlook for the rest of the year could suffer.

The latest figures from each country’s automotive authorities show that deliveries did increase, with strong results posted by each territory.

However, powertrain trends seen in each market during the first quarter of the year have continued. Different technologies are favoured across each of the markets, with some drives struggling more than others.

ICE freezes in France

The French new-car market recorded 146,978 registrations in April according to Autovista24 powertrain calculations based on the latest PFA figures. This equated to a year-on-year increase of 10.9%.

The country owes this growth to the performance of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) and full hybrids (HEVs), as petrol and diesel registrations fell again.

Autovista24 analysis of the figures show that in April, petrol-powered cars saw deliveries drop by 11.6%. This is the third month of the year that the powertrain has seen declines, with a 2% rise in February its only growth so far in 2024. Diesel also struggled, with deliveries down 18.1% in April.

Therefore, the internal-combustion engine (ICE) market suffered a 13% drop in registrations last month as buyers turned towards electrified models. In market share terms, petrol held 32.2% of registrations in April, down from 40.4% at the same time last year. Diesel’s share dropped to 7.7%, from 10.5%.

These struggles are mirrored in year-to-date figures. Petrol registrations declined by 9% over the first four months of the year. Its market share of 33.1% fell from 38.9% in the same period of 2023. Diesel was down by 26.7%, meaning the overall ICE market recorded 13% fewer deliveries. Whereas combustion-engine technology had a 50% share of the market at the same point last year, this fell to 40.7% in the first third of 2024.

Electric drives the market

While ICE suffered, BEVs and HEVs helped drive the market in April, continuing a recently established trend.

BEVs saw registrations increase by 45.2% last month, as buyers continued to embrace the powertrain. This gave the all-electric segment a 16.9% market share, a big increase over the 12.9% recorded in April 2023.

The performance of BEVs is even more impressive considering the reduction in the number of models that qualify for subsidies in France. At the start of this year, the country’s government reduced the list of vehicles that qualify. This cancelled out subsidies for popular imported models, including the MG4 and Dacia Spring.

Deliveries of BEVs have increased every month of the year so far, including March, when the overall market struggled. So far in 2024, 104,666 all-electric cars have been registered, a 27.7% increase on the first third of last year. This equates to a 17.7% market share, up from 14.8% recorded across the same period of 2023.

Hybrids hold firm

France also benefitted from a strong hybrid performance. Unlike other major European markets, France splits out mild-hybrid powertrains (MHEVs) into a separate category.

HEVs alone achieved a 57.1% rise in April, making them the second most popular powertrain in the country for the first time since January. The technology has been trading this position with BEVs throughout the year, and ended the month around 2,800 units ahead of its rival. Therefore, HEVs took an 18.8% share of the overall market in April, up from 13.3% during the same period last year.

In the year to date, HEVs grew 35.1%, taking a market share of 17.1%, an increase on the 13.5% it recorded in the first third of 2023. The technology sits under 3,500 registrations behind BEVs across this year's first four months.

MHEVs saw deliveries increase by 36.1% in April, as the powertrain made up 12.4% of new-car deliveries. However, plug-in hybrid (PHEV) registrations remained stable, with a 0.2% drop equating to 17 fewer units taking to the country’s roads. The technology’s market share fell to 7.4% in April, from 8.2% recorded in the same month last year, as other electrified powertrains improved.

France is embracing electrification, with ICE deliveries continuing to fall. Electrified powertrains made up 55.5% of registrations in April, clearly dominating the new-car market.

Italy sees mixed results

The Italian new-car market ended April with a registration increase of 7.7%, according to data from ANFIA. A total of 135,318 units was boosted by strong performances from petrol and hybrid powertrains, as BEVs and PHEVs continued to struggle for traction.

‘The still high interest rates and the economic uncertainty do not help [Italy] to reach a level of registrations that allows European environmental objectives to be achieved,’ explained Roberto Vavassori, president of ANFIA.

‘Furthermore, the serious delay in the implementation of the rule on new incentives adds to the factors that paint a less than positive picture for the sector. The offer of low and no local emission models increases the possibility of choice for buyers, but this does not seem to be sufficient to bring the market back to the levels necessary for an effective renewal of the Italian fleet, among the oldest and most polluting in Europe,’ he added.

Petrol up in Italy

Petrol-powered passenger cars saw deliveries increase by 14.1% in April, with 42,211 units continuing a trend of growth that has been seen throughout 2024. The drivetrain held a 31.2% share, bucking a trend of declines across Europe and increasing its hold on the market. In the same month last year, the technology accounted for 29.5% of deliveries.

Diesel declined in April, with 21.1% fewer registrations. However, the 14.3% market share, down from 19.6% a year earlier, is still higher than most other European markets. This performance meant ICE deliveries in April remained stable.

In the year to date, petrol saw registrations rise by 18.6%, with a 31.1% market share. Diesel deliveries fell 18.3%, as the powertrain represented 14.9% of the overall market across the first four months of the year, slumping from 19.3%. Combined, ICE registrations were up by 3.5%.

While petrol numbers grew, Italy’s automotive market was dominated by hybrids, made up of HEVs and MHEVs. A total of 53,526 units were registered in April, a 22.8% increase year on year. The powertrain held a 39.6% market share, increasing from its 34.7% hold in April 2023. So far in 2024, hybrid registrations have climbed 14.9%, with a 38.5% share of the market.

Are BEVs in crisis?

Italy posted the lowest volume of BEV registrations of the big five European markets in April, while PHEVs also performed poorly. Italy is struggling to entice buyers to electric vehicles (EVs), a trend that has been visible across the year.

BEV registrations fell by 20% last month, reaching a total of just 3,190 units. This gave the powertrain just 2.4% of the total market in the month, down from the already low 3.2% recorded in April 2023.

In the year to date, deliveries were down by 18.8%, sitting at 16,516 units. Meanwhile, the technology’s market share fell from 3.7% in the first third of 2023, to 2.8% so far this year.

PHEVs outperformed BEVs in terms of volumes in April, with 4,467 registrations in the month. However, this was a drop of 24.9% year on year. The drivetrain made up 3.3% of the market, yet this was a decline from the 4.7% it held in the same period last year.

This performance meant the combined EV market dropped 22.9% in the month, while across the first four months of the year, numbers were down by 21.9%.

Electric vehicles were even outperformed by the ‘others’ category, which includes compressed-natural gas (CNG), and liquid-petroleum gas (LPG) models. This segment alone saw 12,532 deliveries in April, up by 18.9%. The category took a 9.3% market share, jumping from the 8.4% recorded one year prior.

More needs to be done to help customers switch to EVs. If the constant decline in uptake is not tackled, the plug-in market risks being forgotten by drivers. This could cause problems for the country when it comes to meeting emission targets.

Questions remain for Spain

Spain ended April as the best-performing market of the big five in terms of growth, with numbers up 23.1%, according to industry association ANFAC. A total of 92,000 new cars took to the country’s roads, with each powertrain type, except diesel, recording increases.

Yet just like Italy, Spain is struggling to bring buyers into the EV market. However, unlike the Italian performance in April, Spanish EV volumes increased in the month.

Analysis of registration data by Autovista24 shows a total of 3,846 BEVs were delivered in Spain last month, an increase of 11.8% year on year. This gave the powertrain a 4.2% market share, although this was down from the 4.6% recorded in 2023, as other technologies increased their volumes further. PHEVs also performed well, up by 16.7% with 5,051 units, and a 5.5% market share.

However, the 11.1% market share for plug-in models over the first third of the year is some way below the European average of 19.4%, according to figures from ANFAC.

‘Month after month the electrified vehicle market may grow in volume, but it does not grow in share, which has stagnated at around 10% of total monthly sales. This is an insufficient figure to undertake both the emissions reduction objectives and the renewal of the vehicle fleet for a more sustainable and safe one,’ commented José López-Tafall, general director of ANFAC.

‘The objectives set for this year foresee 280,000 electrified passenger cars in 2024, yet at this rate we can already say that we will not achieve it. It is not just a matter of setting goals, but establishing enabling tools that allow them to be achieved,’ López-Tafall added.

Petrol dominates the market

Like Italy, Spain’s new-car market growth was driven by petrol and hybrids, made up of HEVs and MHEVs, in April.

Petrol was the dominant powertrain in the month, with 40,232 units registered, an increase of 24.1% year-on-year. This gave the technology a 43.7% market share, a slight increase on the 43.4% recorded a year earlier.

Hybrids increased their numbers by 38.6%, with 30,443 units taking to the country’s roads. This equates to a 33.1% share of the market, up from 29.4% in April 2023. Diesel registrations fell by 19.3% in April with 8,998 models delivered, according to Autovista24 analysis. The best performance of the month was in the ‘others’ category, which saw its figures jump 136.6%, with 3,432 cars taking to Spanish roads.

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