Is It Cheating?

In August, the European car market exploded. A total of 1.17 million cars were sold on the continent, 30 percent more than in the same month last year. It was the best month in terms of sales increase in 20 years. This year’s August was also the period with the highest monthly growth registered in almost a decade, breaking the record set in November 2009.
2 out of 3 VWs sold in Europe last month went to fleets 1 photo
Photo: Volkswgen
Coincidently, August was the last month when in Europe carmakers were able to sell vehicles not tested under the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure.

This procedure, combined with the Real Driving Emissions test, is now mandatory for all new cars sold there from September 1. It is stricter, takes more time to complete and requires older cars to be fitted with additional equipment, like particulate filters, to be able to pass the test.

JATO Dynamics, a group that for years has been keeping track on who sells what in the automotive industry, sees a connection between the great sales performance for August and the introduction of WLTP.

Since it was announced, WLTP forced carmakers to use the procedure for all new cars built, because as of September 1 no car can be sold in Europe without emission levels measured under WLTP.

Most auto makers did have a sizeable stock of cars piling up at dealers that hadn’t been tested this way. For these cars, there was only one of two choices: either properly equip and test them, or never sell them in Europe.

Of course, carmakers are not forced to test each individual car produced, but rather an example of each model, engine, trim, variant and so on. That’s because even the smallest difference between models can impact emission levels.

Given that a full test cycle for an engine family can last for up to two months, as WLTP was getting ready to kick in, carmakers still had quite a number of cars that weren’t tested as September 1 as approaching.

For August, JATO says that it recorded an unusually high percentage of cars sold in slow-selling segments like subcompacts and compacts (25 and 21 percent increase, respectively) and a boost in sales on the business and fleet channels (38 percent increase compared to last August, in 15 European countries).

Adding one and one, that could mean carmakers have been pushing for the entire month of August to rid themselves of non-WLTP cars (subcompact and compacts) by selling them to their partner businesses, fleets and perhaps even dealers. Let’s take the best three examples.

Volkswagen. In August 2018, VW sold 147,940 cars, 45 percent more than in August 2017 and outperforming the average market growth. For Volkswagen, two out of three cars sold last month were registered to fleets or businesses. The best selling model (and Europe’s overall bestseller): the Golf.

Renault came in second and sold 99,744 cars, a huge 72 percent jump over the same period last year. It’s fleet registrations for August leaped to 61 percent of the total volume. Its best selling model, the Clio, is also Europe second best seller.

Third place goes to Audi, which sold 65.744 cars, up 33 percent compared to last year. Over 70 percent of all cars it sold were registered to fleets and businesses, according to JATO data.

At the same time, sales of diesel-powered cars have been declining over the past few months in Europe and continued to do so in August, but only for the private segment, where sales dropped by 10 percent. At the same time, diesel sales for fleets and businesses increased by 13 percent.

All in all, it must have been a hell of a month for salespeople in the business and fleet sectors, who had to make disappear possibly thousands of vehicles. And they made it, probably pushed like crazy to do so, dumping  non-WLTP tested cars on the market.

But is it cheating?

At the end of the year, as usual, carmakers will be posting their sales numbers. The boost registered in the last month of summer might make all the difference in the world for some. A difference which would not have been possible without WLTP.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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