15 Jan 16

Portugal leads Europe’s growth in car sales

The automobile industry breathes a sigh of relief after several years of steep drops in sales. Throughout all of Europe, the auto industry was one of the sectors most seriously affected by the sovereign debt crisis. Portugal was no exception. But times are changing.

Aside from having to deal with the crisis, poor sales and credit restrictions, the Portuguese market had the disadvantage of having one of Europe’s most severe tax burdens.

Despite these obstacles, the sector has been recovering since 2013 – after having reached a historic low of less than 100,000 units sold in 2012.

In 2014, its recovery continued. It was a year of growth, greatly exceeding the most optimistic projections: 136,000 passenger cars were sold. According to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), Portugal was in fact the European country with the highest increase in new car sales from January to August 2014 – 35.7% more automobiles than in the same period in 2013.

2015: another year of exceeding expectations

Following the trend set in recent years, Portugal continues to lead the growth in automobile sales in the European territory. Portugal is the European Union (EU) country that obtained the highest percentage increase in car sales this year, growing 32.5% in the first five months of 2015, according to the ACEA – followed by Ireland (26.4%) and Spain (21.7%).

This March, 22,695 passenger vehicles were registered in Portugal. We need to look back almost 5 years to find such a positive number. In 2010, the Portuguese market was selling more than 220,000 units/year.

The drop in interest rates and the ease of access to credit explain this year’s rise in demand. But, as seen in 2014, rent-a-car companies are becoming the major drivers of market growth.

An analysis of monthly figures indicates that peaks in sales accompany months in which rent-a-car fleets are habitually obliged to keep up with the traditional rise in tourists on Portuguese soil. “Roughly 29% of new vehicles sold this year through the end of May were for rent-a-car companies,” says ARAC, the Portuguese association of car rental companies. Joaquim Robalo de Almeida, general secretary of ARAC, is convinced that growth in Portuguese tourism has been largely responsible for driving the rent-a-car sector and overall sales.

Reduced unemployment, improved access to credit and the rise in consumer confidence in the economy are some of the reasons explaining the performance of Portugal’s automobile sector in 2015.

Renault leads the Portuguese market

Renault continues to lead the automobile sales market in Portugual. The French brand has led the Portuguese market for 17 consecutive years. The Renault Clio has been one of the key models for obtaining this result, with 7,702 units sold. To secure this position, Renault also boasts the Captur SUV and the Mégane line (see inset). In second place comes Volkswagen with the Golf (5621 units), followed closely by Peugeot, which sold 5333 units of its 208.

Luxury brands doing well

In six months, seven Ferraris, 14 Maseratis, three Lamborghinis and 122 Jaguars were sold in Portugal. Luxury cars are thus keeping pace with the market’s growth trend. In this segment, only Porsche and Aston Martin have recorded inverted sales in 2015, with pronounced losses of 66.3% and 40%, respectively. Meanwhile, the German brands BMW, Mercedes and Audi remain firmly rooted at the top of Portuguese preference ratings.

Particularities of the Portuguese market

Among Europeans, the Portuguese are among those faced with the greatest difficulty in acquiring a new automobile. Low wages, combined with a heavy tax burden, place a series of constraints on drivers – both in terms of margin and volume. A study carried out by CETELEM identified how these particularities manifest themselves in the automobile market. The Portuguese are:

- among those who have to work the most to buy a car;
- among those who acquire a vehicle at the youngest age (the average age is 48, compared to 52 in Europe – in Spain, the average age is 46);
- those who most buy diesel vehicles;
- those who most often indicate price as a key criterion in automobile purchases (74%) – main criteria when buying a car in Portugal: price (64%), fuel economy (52%) and safety (46%);
- those most interested in station wagon variants;
- Portugal is one of the countries with the highest percentage of women buying a new vehicle;
- From 2006 to 2013, the Portuguese vehicle pool aged by two years, overtaking the average European vehicle age of 10 years.

Hugo Jorge


Image: The Portuguese car market is growing fast. Since years Renault is the most popular brand in the country.