How did Europe’s big five new-car markets perform in the first quarter?

19 April 2024

With the first quarter of 2024 complete, Autovista24 editor Tom Geggus discusses the big five European new-car markets with special content editor Phil Curry and journalist Tom Hooker.

All of Europe’s big five markets recorded new-car registration growth in the first quarter of the year. However, there were mixed monthly results, while the performance of powertrains varied across the regions.

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Show notes

March sees new-car deliveries drop in big EU markets

Even deeper decline for BEVs in German new-car market

UK bucks European trend with registrations growth in March

What is the UK ZEV mandate?

France falters

The French new-car market saw registrations increase by 5.7% in the first quarter, equating to 444,901 deliveries. This was helped by double-digit growth of 13% in February, but hampered by a 1.5% drop in March.

Internal-combustion engine (ICE) registrations suffered a drop of 12.9% in the first quarter. Petrol deliveries declined 8.2% and diesel plummeted 29.2%. This drop in demand was reflected in market share, with ICE accounting for 40.9% of all deliveries in the first quarter, compared to 49.7% in the same period one year ago.

Petrol held the highest share of any powertrain and was the only propulsion type to post a six-figure total in the first three months of the year. However, its share slumped to 33.4% from 38.5% in the first quarter of 2023. Meanwhile, diesel fell from an 11.2% share to 7.5%.

Plug-in positivity

In contrast, the EV market, consisting of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) saw double-digit growth. A total of 118,356 registrations meant an increase of 16.8% year on year. In terms of market share, plug-ins have managed to capitalise on ICE’s struggles, rising to 26.6% from 24.1% in the first quarter of 2023.

BEVs also enjoyed a boost, with deliveries up 23% in the first quarter. The technology is now the region's second most popular powertrain. BEVs accounted for 17.9% of all deliveries between January and March, up 2.5 percentage points year on year.

Meanwhile, PHEVs saw more subdued growth. The powertrain was up 5.6% in the first quarter and kept the same market share of 8.7% compared to the same period in 2023.

Hybrid harmony

Hybrids, broken down into mild and full hybrids, saw huge success in the French market. Both recorded the biggest growth out of all popular powertrains.

Full hybrids (HEVs) battled with BEVs for the title of second most popular powertrain, with the former trailing by just under 6,200 units. The technology grew by 28.4% in the first quarter and recorded a big jump in market share to 16.5% from 13.6%.

Mild hybrids (MHEVs) had the best growth of all popular powertrains, up 41.2%. However, this was achieved on a lower figure than HEVs. Despite this, MHEVs stayed comfortably ahead of diesel and PHEV deliveries. The technology also saw good gains in market share, up by 2.9 percentage points to 11.5%.

Issues in Italy

Italy ended the first quarter with registrations up 5.7%, thanks to a total of 450,976 passenger cars registered.

The country saw deliveries grow by 10.6% in January, while in February they improved by 12.8%. In March, however, registrations fell 3.7%, which reduced its quarterly increase.

The country is struggling to engage buyers with EVs, with both BEVs and PHEVs seeing steep declines across the first three months of the year. A total of 27,740 plug-in models were registered, down by 21.5% on the same period of 2023.

PHEV popularity

PHEVs remained the most popular EV powertrain in Italy, with 14,415 deliveries in the quarter. However, this was down 24% on last year’s figures, with the technology accounting for 3.2% of the market, a drop of 1.2pp. BEVs also struggled, down 18.5% over the first three months of the year, with 13,325 registrations.

The BEV market share is a concern in Italy. Sitting at 3% of overall vehicle deliveries between January and March, the powertrain’s market share was down by 0.8pp. This was the lowest BEV share across all of the big five European new-car markets, highlighting Italy’s tricky transition towards zero-emission vehicles.

The most popular powertrain in the first quarter was hybrid, including HEVs and MHEVs. Deliveries were up 12.6%, holding a 38.2% market share, up from 35.8% a year ago.

Petrol also improved in the first three months of 2024, up 20% with 140,025 units, and claiming a market share of 31%. This was up by 2.7pp, meaning that rather than reducing reliance on ICE models, Italy is seeing increased usage. This will affect its plans to reduce transport emissions.

Spain remains cautious

In the first quarter of 2024, Spain saw registrations improve by 3.1% with 244,879 deliveries. This was despite a 4.7% drop during March, where all powertrains except hybrids and ‘others’ declined. The market was helped by improvements of 7.3% in January and 9.9% in February.

The country’s automotive industry body, ANFAC, believes that March’s poor performance was not helped by the early Easter period this year. It will instead look to April as an indication of the Spanish new-car market’s potential performance for the rest of 2024.

Plug-in problems persist

Spain is another country struggling to entice buyers to electric vehicles. Although registrations of plug-in models improved by 6.4% in the quarter, their volumes were still low, commanding just 11.1% of the market.

Just as in Italy, PHEVs were the most popular EV powertrain in Spain, with 15,700 units registered in the quarter, an improvement of 5.5% on the first three months of last year. This gave the technology a market share of 6.4%, meaning it remained stable compared to the same period last year.

BEVs also improved, with their tally of 11,386 units up 7.7% between January and March. However, this equated to a market share of 4.6%, another stable performance. More is needed to bring buyers towards the zero-emission technology, or Spain risks missing emissions targets.

However, the lack of interest in plug-in models did not equate to an improved ICE market. Registrations of petrol engines were down by 5.2% in the quarter at 97,057 units, with a 39.6% market share dropping 3.5pp.

Meanwhile, diesel’s decline continued, down 24.4% across the first three months of the year, for a market share of 10%, slumping 3.6pp year on year.

Instead, it was hybrids (combining HEV and MHEVs) which saw the best growth. Their registrations were up 23.1%, reaching 88,983 deliveries. This meant the powertrain closed in on petrol, which despite its declines remained the most popular powertrain. Hybrids did see an improved market share, with the first quarter figure of 36.3% up from the 30.4% recorded last year.

Germany’s bleak BEV outlook

Germany’s new-car market was up by 4.2% in the first quarter of 2024, equating to 694,749 registrations. This was thanks to the strongest January and February in four years.

Despite overall growth, the sudden removal of private BEV incentives in December still had an impact on demand. BEV deliveries dropped by 14.1% in the first quarter, capturing 11.7% of the market, down 2.5pp year on year.

BEVs also had the unwanted title of Germany’s worst-performing powertrain of 2024, so far. They were the only propulsion type to experience a decline in deliveries, alongside the largest loss in market share in the first quarter.

PHEV positivity

In comparison, PHEVs had a good start to 2024, despite deliveries declining 4.5% in March. The technology grew 19.8% in the first quarter, the best of all popular powertrains in Germany. The technology’s share grew from 5.6% to 6.5%.

Despite PHEV improvement, EV figures could not be dragged into the positive. Plug-in registrations fell 4.5% year on year, while market share fell to 18.2% from 19.8% in the first quarter of 2023.

Hybrids (including HEVs and MHEVs), saw registrations rise by 11.3% in the first quarter, and the technology increased its market share to 25% from 23.4% across the first three months of 2024. Hybrids are comfortably the second most popular powertrain behind petrol.

Petrol and diesel models saw gains in the first three months of the year, up 4% and 4.1% respectively. However, despite increased demand, petrol’s share dropped marginally to 37.2% in the first quarter, while diesel maintained its 18.9% from the first three months of 2023.

Unsurprisingly, this caused ICE to record overall registration growth in the first quarter, but a slight drop in market share to 56.1%.

UK leads the way

The UK was the only one of the big five markets to see registrations improve in March. The quarterly registration total increased by 10.4%, with 545,548 new passenger cars delivered.

March and September are traditionally stronger months in the UK due to the country’s traditional numberplate changes. Many buyers will wait to have their vehicles registered in these months to take advantage of the newer plates. This may have contributed to the 10.4% rise in the month.

The country is struggling with which sectors are making purchases. Fleet deliveries drove the market, up 28.9% in the first quarter. Meanwhile, private deliveries were down 9.2% in the quarter, and small business purchases dropped by 7.7%. Should the fleet sector have a bad period, the 20 consecutive months of registration growth in the country could come to an end.

EV elevation

EVs improved their registration totals by 34% in the quarter, with BEVs holding second place in the powertrain race. The powertrain recorded a total of 84,314 registrations, up by 10.6%. However, the market share for the technology remained stable, with its 15.5% hold increasing just 0.1pp between January and March.

PHEVs experienced the biggest registrations increase in the quarter, up by 34% with a total of 42,559 deliveries. This saw the market share jump from 6.4% in the first three months of last year, to 7.8% in the same period of 2024. This meant the technology overtook diesel, consigning the latter to the bottom of the powertrain pile.

After ending the plug-in car grant in 2022, the UK still has no purchase incentive scheme for EVs. This makes registrations more organic than those in other markets. However, the country’s zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate is now in effect. It calls for 22% of manufacturer sales to come from BEV or hydrogen fuel-cell powertrains this year, making the current market share a cause for concern.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) combines MHEVs into their respective petrol and diesel powertrain counterparts. This can cause a disparity in ICE market performance compared to other European markets. The country saw petrol-powered models improve by 9.4% in the quarter, with 306,925 units taking a 56.3% market share, down 0.5pp on last year.

Diesel’s decline continued, with 37,655 deliveries down 5.3% in the first three months. This meant the market share dropped to 6.9%, from 8% in the first quarter to 2024.

HEVs saw registrations improve in the UK by 12.5%, with 74,095 units registered between January and March. This meant the powertrain held a 13.6% market share, making it the third most popular option for buyers in the country.

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