VW Group achieves delivery record - China business weaker

DusseldorfDespite all problems with diesel engines and the new registration requirements according to WLTP, Volkswagen set a sales record last year - and can once again defend its position as the world's largest automobile manufacturer.

In 2018, the Wolfsburg-based group with its twelve brands - from cars to heavy trucks - was able to sell 10.83 million vehicles worldwide. Compared to the previous year, this is a slight increase of just under one percent. Since 2016, VW is the world's largest automaker.

Volkswagen regularly emphasizes that the world's number one title is not particularly important to the company, even now. "The achievement of new maximum volume brands is no longer the measure of all things for us," said Volkswagen sales chief Christian Dahlheim on Friday at the presentation of the delivery figures for 2018. Nevertheless, there is also in Wolfsburg secretly great joy that the group the title defended the world's largest automaker.

Volkswagen once again left its long-running rival Toyota behind. In mid-December, the Japanese carmaker presented an extrapolation for its own sales result for 2018. After that, Toyota sold about 10.55 million vehicles last year. Even if Toyota should have sold an unexpected number of cars in the second half of December, the gap to Volkswagen is too big to make it to number one. Over the holidays, traditionally few cars are sold.

For the first place of Volkswagen, however, is a restriction. If the alliance of Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi were counted as an independent group, the Wolfsburg company would get another serious competitor for the top rank. With the inclusion of Mitsubishi Motors in the Alliance, the Franco-Japanese Alliance in 2017 had catapulted into the top flight of the world's largest automakers. By the middle of 2018, the Dreier Group was even slightly ahead of Volkswagen.

Brands like light and shadow

However, Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi have only entered into reciprocal investments with each other; they do not form a single and fully consolidated group. Therefore, the three companies are not considered a single manufacturer - and the VW Group remains in any case ahead. After the arrest of his CEO Carlos Ghosn in November last year on suspicion of fraud, the alliance has also fallen into a serious crisis.

Industry observers are increasingly asking whether the alliance can survive in the long run. Last year, the Dreier Group had sold about 100,000 less than the VW Group. The exact sales figures for the past year are expected to be released by the Triple Alliance at the end of January.

Within the Volkswagen Group, light and shade alternate clearly. The weakest last year was Ingolstadt's premium subsidiary Audi. The Audi sales figures fell in 2018 by about 3.5 percent to 1.81 million vehicles. Negative is also the sales result of the British luxury brand Bentley: 10,500 vehicles sold mean a minus of about five percent.

Greater growth was recorded last year by the passenger car brands Seat, Skoda and Porsche. The lorries were particularly strong for the subsidiary MAN, which was able to increase its sales figures by almost 20 percent to around 137,000 vehicles. As in 2017, the VW brand, the highest-volume division within the Group, was able to sell around 6.24 million cars.

Regionally, the Wolfsburg-based group benefited from the economic recovery in Russia and Brazil. This compensated for the decline in sales in North America and Germany, for example.

With about 4.2 million cars sold, China is the most important market for the entire group. In 2018, Volkswagen roughly matched the figures of the previous year. However, since the middle of last year, sales in China have dropped significantly. The trigger is the trade conflict with the US, which had led to uncertainty among customers in the People's Republic.

Diesel scandal loses importance in sales

In Europe, the VW Group since September had major problems with the new emission standard WLTP - there were too few cars in the group that had met the new requirements. The group had not prepared in time for the new WLTP standards. VW had to temporarily park thousands of cars at airports, because not all models and variants had the necessary certification. The Volkswagen brand has largely survived the consequences. Audi had the biggest problems - the consequences will still be felt in the new year. The WLTP problems also explain the overall weak sales performance of Audi last year.

The consequences of the diesel scandal have continued to lose importance for Volkswagen over the past year. In North America and China, the Group does not sell diesel. In Europe - the world's most important diesel market - the importance of this type of engine has continued to decline. The share of diesel vehicles in new passenger car registrations is only about one third. Individual VW Group brands such as Porsche have completely stopped selling diesel models.

The year just started will not necessarily be easy for Volkswagen. "In the year 2019, the headwind for our business will not weaken in view of the geopolitically volatile developments," warned sales chief Christian Dahlheim. The VW Group thus means the trade conflict between China and the United States as well as Brexit, the imminent departure of Great Britain from the EU.

"Although trade conflicts may continue to increase in the current year 2019, we do not anticipate a second year of declining sales for the Chinese auto market," commented Frank Schwope, automotive analyst at NordLB in Hanover, on Volkswagen's sales results.

In China, for example, the state could boost sales with tax breaks for cars. In sum, it should therefore continue to go up for the VW Group in the new year. For the entire year 2019 Schwope expects about eleven million vehicle deliveries of the Wolfsburg car manufacturer.