That the automobile market is changing is something few can deny. It always did, but in the last decade that process has accelerated by combining a transformation of tastes and a technological revolution, which has led, for example, to 46% of passenger cars sold in Europe are currently of type SUV or that some pure electric vehicles, such as the Tesla Model 3 or the Volkswagen ID.3, begin to take positions at the top of the market. And in parallel, the models that we can call ‘conventional’ are not going through their best moment, especially those that are active in some segments highly affected by the arrival of SUVs, such as minivans, now almost residual in sales, or compact cars in the style of the Golf. A leading Golf in our continent in 32 of the last 37 years whose reign is still in force, although already with symptoms of fatigue. Is the almost monolithic dominance of Volkswagen’s ‘bestseller’ ending?
Let’s go back almost half a century, to 1972 specifically, the last year the Volkswagen Beetle, known in our country as ‘Beetle’, reigned in Europe, It totaled 439,200 units sold and managed to get ahead of two Fiats that hit very hard at the time: the 128, which added 408,600 units that year, and the 127, of which 347,100 units were registered in our continent. A 127 that was already pointing out ways and that in 1973 became the best-selling car in the European market, a leadership that would repeat another five years and which was ended by one of its fiercest rivals of the time, the Renault 5, which was it rose to the first European position in 1979 and would not go down from there for four years, since the period 1979-1982 was for the R-5.
However, a few years earlier, in 1974, a car called Golf had seen the light with which Volkswagen wanted to repeat the commercial success achieved with the Beetle, and already in 1976 the new German model was on the continental podium, surpassed only by Fiat 127 and Renault 5. And sales of the Golf continued to grow, to which the ‘GTI’ phenomenon contributed, a sports version born as an experiment and which many believed to be a minority, but which ended up permeating and becoming an object of desire until put Golf in the minds of millions of Europeans. Although the real revolution would come with its second generation, which became a European ‘bestseller’ in 1983, a privileged position that the German car held continuously until 1996. In 1997, the Fiat Punto would be the best-seller, but the Golf regained the lead again in 1998 and did not drop it until 2003, when the best-selling vehicle in Europe was the Peugeot 206.
The Golf saga was then already in its fifth generation, launched in 2003, and many believe that it was not a model up to expectations (its somewhat rounded aesthetics raised criticism) and that affected its sales, because although in 2004 if it achieved the European leadership, in the following three years it was surpassed: in 2005 and 2006 the European ‘bestseller’ would be the Opel Astra, while in 2007 the Peugeot 207 occupied the first place. However, Volkswagen seemed to take note of the ‘message ‘of your potential customers and With the sixth generation, born in 2008, the waters returned to their course: that year 458,283 units of the Golf were sold, for the 406,163 of the Peugeot 207 and the 364,638 of the Ford Focus. Again he was the continental leader.
The Volkswagen compact would never drop out of first place, a reign that has continued to this day uninterruptedly for 13 years. And always being the European leader in the last 37 years except five times, with an especially dominant behavior in the last decade, since Of the 100 months since the beginning of 2010, in 97 of them Golf was the leader: the Ford Fiesta in March 2010 and March 2017, and the Opel Corsa in September 2018 caused the only three ‘lapses’ of the Volkswagen car in that period.
Falling sales since 2015
However, if we draw the Golf sales curve in recent years he would draw a clear downline: 648,176 units in 2015, 565,382 in 2016, 546,250 in 2017, 502,752 in 2018, 410,330 in 2019, 285,010 in the ‘pandemic’ 2020 … So until 2021, in which it continues to be the European leader, but already with differences minimum in relation to its pursuers, because at the end of the first semester its 135,027 accumulated units were a stone’s throw from the 132,599 that the Renault Clio added in that period, or even the 122,468 of the Volkswagen Tiguan.
Because the domain of Golf compared to other models it can no longer be considered overwhelming. Last February, for example, it finished the third month, behind the Peugeot 208 and 2008, and although in March it was rebuilt and returned to be the ‘boss’ of the sales list, in April it fell again to the third plaza, and again after 208 and 2008, the latter manufactured exclusively at the Spanish plant in Vigo. The Golf returns to be the continental leader in May, but in June, July and August it has to settle for second place, and in all cases to be surpassed by a model that hits harder and harder: the Dacia Sandero, whose third generation It is reaping enormous success, and if the utility of the Romanian firm of Renault Group had already been the best-selling car to individuals in Europe (and Spain) for several years, now it is already biting higher, and with those three consecutive monthly leads during the summer in absolute registrations (which include sales to individuals, companies and renters), the Sandero is already in the European ‘top 5’.
In any case, those responsible for Volkswagen have not been taken by surprise by the cooling of sales of the Golf, because in the German firm were aware for a long time of the foreseeable fall of the so-called ‘compact’, which currently represent only 16% of the European market, compared to the aforementioned 46% of SUVs or 17% of utility vehicles such as SEAT Ibiza or Peugeot 208 (24% if we add urban utility vehicles in the style of Fiat 500 or Hyundai i10 ), who hold up a little better helped by the sales to ‘rent a car’. Because the The unstoppable growth of SUVs is taking away the market especially from compact cars, and that is why when Volkswagen launched the T-Roc in 2018 (an SUV that shares the MQB platform with the Golf, which is also very similar in dimensions), the brand Germana explained that it was born to, in a way, take over from Golf. “We know that the market for compact cars such as the Golf will fall in the coming years and that the SUV market will continue to rise, and our new reference model there will be the T-Roc”, commented three years ago a Volkswagen official during the presentation of the T-Roc near Lisbon.
In fact, in the month of July the T-Roc was placed second in the important German market, already very close to the Golf, which gives an idea of how Volkswagen’s compact SUV has been conquering in this time, even the most loyal public to the everlasting leader. In so far this year, Golf continues to hold first place in Germany, but its two closest pursuers on the sales list make it clear where the tastes of the clientele go, since the second classified in the period from January to September is the Volkswagen Tiguan and the third is the T-Roc: two SUVs. In addition, the drop in Golf sales in recent times should not be interpreted as a ‘personal crisis’, since it is still by far the best-selling compact model in Europe, and rarely do any of their rivals get into the continental ‘top 10’, let alone the ‘top 5’. If anything, the Skoda Octavia, which in many markets is seen as a compact and not as a saloon, or the Toyota Corolla.
But if budget models like the Dacia Sandero or the Renault Clio lurk to deprive the Golf of its continental reign and SUVs pose a growing offensive that undermines the registrations of the one that has been European leader in 32 of the last 37 years, Competition is also emerging for Volkswagen’s compact car in the sales ranking from the electric segment. For example, and this is significant, the Tesla Model 3 was close to being the best-selling car in Germany last September: 6,828 units, compared to 6,886 for the Golf.
The Volkswagen ID.3, new ‘rival’
Although for competition, which means for the Golf the presence in its own range of the Volkswagen ID.3, which we could describe as ‘electric in Golf format’. Because since the ID.3 was launched, the German firm has received 144,000 orders, and although Volkswagen explains that some 70,000 of them (almost half) are new customers of the brand, you don’t have to be a lynx to imagine how many of those sales would have gone to the Golf in a world without electrics. In addition, we must not forget that contrary to what happened with the previous generation (the Golf 7), which had in its range a 100% electric version baptized e-Golf, in the eighth model there is no electric Golf, what plays against him in the face of registrations.
Probably the Golf will complete 2021 as a sales leader in the European market, but his reign seems to be coming to an end. Reign in production volume, of course, because Volkswagen’s compact model still exhibits muscle with a range that, except for a pure electric or a three-door body (another of those body styles that have fallen into oblivion due to lack of acceptance), offers practically everything: Variant family body and an Alltrack that dares with the roads, sports GTI and R models up to 320 horsepower, a plug-in hybrid GTE available with 204 and 245 CV, diesel and gasoline mechanics that include eHybrid soft hybridization systems … So, Thinking of a Golf 9 does not seem far-fetched for the future, and who knows if with surprises that will keep it at the top of the European market, as it is today.