Global demand for passenger cars down for the second year in a row

In 2009, global passenger car sales fell by 6.0% to 52.4 million vehicles. Unit sales largely stabilized in the last months of the reporting period, mainly as a result of government programs to promote sales and lucrative incentive packages from the manufacturers. However, the Asia-Pacific region, due to the sharp increase in new passenger car registrations in China, and Western Europe, mainly due to the strong growth in Germany, were the only regions to record greater demand. By contrast, the markets in Central and Eastern Europe, North America and South Africa recorded sharp declines. Due in particular to the positive impact of government measures in Brazil, the decline in South America was considerably lower. In the reporting period, global automotive production decreased by 13.2% to 60.0 million units, of which 49.4 million were passenger cars (–14.0%).

Sector specific environment

The automotive industry environment was marked by contrasting factors in 2009. The financial and economic crisis in particular had a significant impact on consumer demand. Government subsidy programs led to a temporary abandonment of customers’ unwillingness to buy, who had become unsettled due to the crisis. Measures taken by many governments have bolstered the global automobile market and even ensured a sharp rise in new registrations. This generated additional demand and pull-forward effects: many consumers made their purchase decisions in 2009 on account of subsidy programs, earlier than originally planned.

Vehicles in thousands
Volkswagen Group deliveries by month (line chart)

North America

At –20.5%, demand for passenger cars and light commercial vehicles in the North American market in 2009 was significantly below the already low previous year’s level. In the USA, persistent consumer reluctance led to a 21.3% slump in vehicle sales to 10.4 million units. The US government’s incentive program was only able to ensure stability for a short time. Year-on-year losses were recorded by both the passenger car segment (–19.0% to 5.5 million vehicles) and the light commercial vehicle segment (–23.6% to 4.9 million units). In total, new registrations fell to their lowest level since 1982.

Sales figures in the Canadian market fell by 10.7% in the reporting period to 1.5 million units. Sales in Mexico also fell as against the previous year, with demand falling even more sharply – down 26.4% to 0.8 million vehicles.

South America

For the first time since 2003, vehicle sales in the South America region in 2009 were down year-on-year. Brazil was an exception to this general trend: the domestic market recorded yet another high. The limited government incentive program of high tax breaks was the main reason for the 12.8% rise in new registrations to 2.5 million passenger cars. At the same time, vehicle exports were down 35.3% on the previous year’s figures at 475 thousand units, mainly as a result of the recession in the key export markets. With an 11.8% decline to 378 thousand vehicles, the Argentinian passenger car market was down significantly on the previous year’s high.


The rise in new passenger car registrations in the Asia-Pacific region continued, due mainly to the strong demand growth in the Chinese market in 2009. With growth of 3.0 to 8.5 million units (+53.9%), China has become the world’s largest passenger car market. The sales boom was boosted in particular by tax breaks granted to buy vehicles with engine capacities of up to 1.6 liters from January 2009. The downward trend in the Japanese domestic market continued for the fifth year in succession: the number of passenger car sales fell by 7.2% in the reporting period to 3.9 million vehicles. Weak domestic consumer sentiment and less interest in automobiles among the younger generation are the reasons for the overall lowest number of new registrations since 1977. In India, passenger car sales were up 17.3% on the previous year’s level. The rise to 1.4 million units was mainly driven by lower interest rates and a host of recently launched models.

Europe/Remaining markets

Demand for new vehicles in Western Europe rose slightly in the reporting period by 0.5% to 13.7 million units. At the beginning of the year, a dramatic market downturn was looming; however, this was avoided by government measures to promote sales by most automobile-producing countries in the region. Of the major markets, France recorded double-digit growth (+10.7%), while Spain (–17.9%), the UK (–6.4%) and Italy (–0.2%) recorded market contraction. The share of diesel vehicles in Western Europe fell to approximately 46% mainly as a result of the shift in demand to the mini and small car segments.

New car registrations collapsed in Central and Eastern Europe. Significant declines were recorded for the volume markets of Russia (–50.3%), Ukraine (–71.9%), Romania (–51.0%) and Hungary (–50.8%) in particular. Passenger car sales in Turkey were up significantly on the previous year’s figures thanks to temporary tax breaks (+12.7%).

Demand for automobiles in South Africa fell to its lowest level in seven years. 255 thousand vehicles were sold here in fiscal year 2009, down 22.5%.


Demand for passenger cars in Germany increased by 18.2% in fiscal year 2009 to 4.0 million vehicles. The passenger car market reached its highest level since 1992 with 3.8 million units sold (+23.2%), mainly due to the scrapping premium. In contrast, new registrations of commercial vehicles, at 242 thousand (–27.7%), fell to their lowest level since reunification as a result of a decline in investment activity. At 170 thousand vehicles, new registrations of trucks with a gross vehicle weight of up to six tonnes were down 24.4% on the previous year’s level. In particular, weak demand for passenger cars and commercial vehicles abroad led to a decline at German manufacturers in domestic production (–13.9% to 5.2 million units) and exports (–20.4% to 3.6 million units).


The effects of the global economic crisis led to a sharp drop in freight transportation in fiscal year 2009. The resulting reluctance on the part of buyers caused massive sales losses in all key sales regions with the exception of China. Global sales of trucks with a gross vehicle weight in excess of 15 tonnes fell by 21% to a total of 1.2 million.

In North America, negative demand growth for heavy trucks continued for the third year running. With a fall of 38% against 2008, this represents yet another significant shortfall against the weak figure for the previous year.

The effects on the Brazilian truck market were less drastic. Here, new registrations, supported by the government’s programs to encourage spending, fell by approximately 20%.

In China, by far and away the largest single market for heavy trucks, the positive sales trend continued in the reporting period. With double-digit growth to approximately 600 thousand units, China now accounts for almost half of all global sales. In contrast, sales of heavy trucks to the other key markets in the Asia-Pacific region fell even further. In India, the world’s third-largest sales market, new registrations fell approximately 20% below the prior-year figure; in Japan this figure fell by some 57%.

The market slump in heavy trucks was particularly steep in Western Europe. Sales here were almost half of that seen in the previous year. The market in Central and Eastern Europe contracted even more strongly to less than a third of the previous year’s volume.

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