CarBuyer Analysis: Which brands were the most popular? Who were the biggest winners and losers? Are SUVs really the best-selling type of car in Singapore?
In 2019 the new passenger car market shrank 10 percent, going from 80,281 cars sold in 2018 to 72,344 units sold last year, the reason being the shrinking Certificate of Entitlement (COE) quota.
In brief, the new car population is determined by the number of COEs available, announced per quarter, and that number is itself determined by the number of de-registrations (aka ‘scrapped’ cars) that took place in the previous quarter.
Singapore’s car population is made up mostly of cars below five years of age, hence a contraction in the number of new COEs available. As that glut of cars moves toward the 10-year mark, when COEs expire and cars are scrapped, that’s when we will see new car sales go up, unless of course, they have their COEs renewed.
A quick glance at the chart gives you most of the big pointers straight up – the top four ranked car brands in Singapore for sales in 2019 remained the same: Honda, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, and Hyundai.
For Honda and Toyota to be at the top is no surprise, but how they did it is also interesting – we’ll break it down by bodystyle later in this story. Again the figures provided by the LTA include all cars registered here, so they include not just official units, but also parallel imports (PI).
Honda’s big addition was the facelifted Civic sedan, which we reviewed and found to be still a very strong offering in the family sedan segment.
However only 15.4 percent of Honda’s total were sedans (almost certainly all of which are Civics), but a third (33.7 percent) of its sales came from hatchbacks, and a close 28 percent from SUVs. Makes sense when you consider the most popular models (official ones) here are the HR-V small SUV and Jazz hatchback.
Read our review of the current model, facelifted in 2018 (shown below).
On another note, from the figures we can see that the sales of Honda and Toyota’s PI hybrid cars are going strong – 3,338 units of Hondas were hybrids and there are no officially-imported hybrids in the current lineup. That means 21.9 percent of Honda’s sold here were PI hybrids.
Toyota’s new Corolla Altis hit the roads late last year, so it didn’t make as big of an impact on sales figures as it will this year. We’ve tested the 1.6 and 1.8 Hybrid.
For Toyota, which has bolstered its hybrid range with the Corolla Altis though that came late in the year to make a big difference, and the prices of its other hybrids are still on the costlier end of the scale. 3,777 units of Toyota hybrids were registered here in 2019, representing 29.2 percent of all Toyotas registered, a large proportion of which are certainly PI cars. The actual number of PI cars is certainly higher for both brands, considering PIs have found more ways to enjoy VES rebates.
Mercedes-Benz is again the stand out brand here, for numerous reasons. Not only is it the third best-selling brand here, it’s also the best-selling luxury brand in Singapore by a fair margin. As Mr Eric Chan, managing director of official Mercedes-Benz dealer Cycle & Carriage said, “Mercedes-Benz sold as many cars in 2019 as BMW and Audi combined.”
“As the top luxury automotive brand since 2013, we are delighted to see that customers continue to place their trust and confidence in the silver star. While the exceedingly popular C- and E-Class continue to propel the brand to greater prominence and standing vis-à-vis our competitors, the rising trend towards non-traditional vehicle segments have also widened Mercedes-Benz’ appeal,” said Philipp Hagenburger, President and CEO of Mercedes-Benz Singapore.
It was also one of the few brands to sell more cars in 2019 than 2018 – 7,840 units up from 7,122, a 10-percent increase. Only Honda did similar (selling 164 units more), whereas literally every other brand in the top 10 sold fewer cars in 2019.
Why? The three-pointed star’s brand power is strong as ever, and the evidence is in its ability to make normally practical Singaporeans ape out and buy coupes. Mercedes sold more coupes/convertibles than any other brand here, moving 1,236 of them in 2019, an astounding 15.8 percent of its total sales. The closest rival in the emotional category was BMW, with 441 coupe/convertibles sold, representing 8.3 percent of its sales.
Keep in mind that the sales figures also show brand consciousness is a big thing here: The top 10 brands sold a combined 62,166 cars comprising 86 percent of all cars sold here, an increase from 2018’s ratio, which was 84.4 percent.
But it’s not as if its Southeast German neighbors were sitting on their laurels either – BMW sold almost as many cars as it did in 2018, and jumped one position too.
Christopher Wehner, BMW Asia’s managing director, told CarBuyer: “Once again, BMW had a successful year in Singapore. Despite the overall market shrinking,, our sales volume maintained similar to that of 2018. As such, we increased our segment share to 7.4 percent and we are now the fifth biggest car brand in Singapore.”
Helping that along was a positive barrage of models – BMW debuted the new 1 Series, new variants of the X2 SUV, the facelifted X1, the new X5, X6 and X7 SUVs, the new 3 Series, the facelifted 7 Series, the new Z4 and 8 Series coupes, as well as the i3S electric car.
As you can see from the number of Xs in the paragraph above, SUVs contributed to BMW’s sales in a big way, the biggest sellers being the X1 and X3. SUVs made up 39.2 percent of its sales, with sedans only 21.4 percent.. The 3 Series didn’t make as big an impact as it usually did – it’s one of the brand’s mainstays here – as the more affordable 320i model wasn’t on the ground until the last quarter of the year.
“We witnessed very strong demand for our SAV/ SUV models this year, similar to many other markets globally, as there is a growing shift from sedans to SUVs. However, this year we expect to see stronger sales in sedan segment as we launched the BMW 320i at the end of 2019 and this is a very sought after model in the market,” added Mr Wehner.
Audi broke back into the top 10 enjoying a 10-year sales high. Its mainstays were the A3 and A4 sedans, with four-door cars compromising 42 percent of the brand’s total sales. The facelifted A4, which we tested in December 2019, arrived too late to make a big impact in sales last year. 31.8 percent of Audi’s sales came from SUVs, a reflection of the brand’s sales globally where roughly a third of its sales are from soft-roaders.
Outside of Honda and Toyota, there were mixed fortunes for Japanese brands in the top 10. The two brands that typically sell the most cars here after The Big Two, Mazda and Nissan, both saw the biggest drops in position amongst the top 10, losing two and three steps respectively to end up in seventh and 10th spot.
Mazda’s big hope in 2019 was the new Mazda 3 sedan, traditionally the most popular car in the Hiroshima-based carmakers line-up and one of Singapore’s most popular cars in the past. However it didn’t sell as well as the previous model, possibly because of a slightly higher price point for the new car, combined with mega-run-out sales of the previous model, which partly explains how Mazda’s sales slid from 5,414 units to 3,095.
However Mazda now has a new car in the very popular small SUV segment with the CX-30, and that might help it boost its sales in 2020, along with the new CX-8 seven-seat SUV (both of which appeared at the Singapore Motorshow).
“The CX-30 and CX-8 are important models for the brand that we expect to help us to grow our share in the SUV segment, which is a growing segment in globally, as well as in Singapore, together with our existing CX-3, CX-5 and CX-9 models,” Eurokars Group Managing Director, Miss Ong Lay Ling, said.
Nissan’s difficulties are more clear to see as its most popular model, the Qashqai, last received a facelift in 2017 and a new model is expected in the near future. However in the meantime it also has a C1 VES penalty (S$10,000) for all its variants here, and the other cars in Nissan’s lineup have never been mainstays – the Sylphy for example, never quite replaced the Nissan Sunny as the bread-and-butter sedan in the range
Subaru faired worse than either brand though, and fell out of the top 10, with its sales plummeting from 3,196 units to just 1,261 in total.
Hyundai and Kia enjoyed the opposite with Hyundai staying at fourth and Kia leapfrogging two spots, thanks in part to Mazda’s slide.
Hyundai’s sales are a particularly interesting case, with the most homogenous of any car brand – some 82.3 percent of the cars it sold were sedans, with the Accent and Avante likely making up the majority of those, and only SUVs at 9.1 percent making up the second biggest proportion – to put that into perspective it sold 4,846 sedans and 514 SUVs. That could change in 2020 with the debut of its new compact SUV, the Venue, which we’ve just reviewed.
We say that because a compact SUV has already been a bit hit for Kia, with roughly 1,000 units of the sub-S$90 with COE Kia Stonic sold here in 2019. Not surprising, since we found it to be not just the least expensive SUV here, but also stylish, roomy, and very value for money. The only bigger seller was Kia’s usual mainstay, the Cerato, with approximately 2,000 units sold.
For the best of the rest, Volkswagen gained a spot to sit at 11th position, with 1,726 cars sold, Subaru as mentioned, dropped to 12th with 1,261 cars sold. But it more than made up for it with Skoda doing very well in its second year – 849 cars sold, which inched very close to Volvo, while beating Renault (779 cars) and corporate cousin Seat (329 cars).
Analysing only the top five brands, as we did last year, we see the proportion and total number of sedans sold increased significantly, to 41.4 percent up from 36.2 percent, which does show that in 2019 the four-door body style is still the prevalent choice for Singaporeans.
The flipside to this question is, as we asked last year – is the SUV craze dying down? The answer is yes, but only very slightly, with a drop from 23 to 21 percent, and that perhaps shows the SUV has reached its apex and will plateau from now on.
If you look upwards, price wise, it’s not going away though with super-lux SUVs still coming in very strong in sales terms – the Lamborghini Urus, the Porsche Cayenne and Macan, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, all helped increase their brand’s sales numbers, although they wouldn’t count much against the hordes of mainstream SUVs.
Curiously one style that has gained market share is the MPV/wagon sector, which is curious since we didn’t see many MPVs or wagons launched last year – perhaps the most significant is the Nissan Serena E-Power hybrid.
There is one clue as to why: For some reason, the BMW 2 Series Grand Tourer and Active Tourer, both MPVs, are now reported as hatchbacks by the LTA. Since those cars are very popular here, numbering at least 100-200 units in sales figures, that could fudge the figures a little. There is clearly still an increase though, so it looks like the global unpopularity of MPVs isn’t making itself known in one-car-does-it-all Singapore.
As we mentioned in our previous COE Analysis story from December, the outlook for 2020 is a further contraction of the car market for the reasons mentioned at the beginning of this story. An authorised distributor CarBuyer spoke to forecast a COE quota cut of up to 30 percent, meaning a drop from roughly 72,300 down to 50,600. More pessimistic estimates CarBuyer has heard include mid-40,000s.
The first two months of the year have brought welcome news – COE prices remain stable and even fell, indicating overall demand for cars isn’t huge.
However we can possibly also expect slow downs due to another factor: The novel coronavirus.
Carmakers assembling cars in China itself likely won’t affect deliveries here as very few cars here are made in the PRC. MG, whose cars are made in China, has currently seen no impact yet according to authorised distributor Eurokars.
But it could still have an effect, as automotive suppliers are a different story altogether.
China is a major player in automotive supply, with many international companies moving their production bases there, and disruptions mean delays for cars made anywhere in the world, simply because modern cars use parts from every corner of the globe.
Hyundai has already stopped some production in its Korean factories due to a shortage of Chinese made parts, and it’s no doubt other automakers may soon face the same situation.
And the virus could depress demand and keep COEs at a low price too. Why? Simply because fewer people will visit showrooms. “For sure it’s been quieter in the weeks with the coronavirus situation at the forefront,” the sales manager of a German brand told CarBuyer.
With the virus situation keeping people anxious and focused on the necessities, it’s possible cars – always a luxury and not a necessity in Singapore – could see sales drops, and by proxy, COE prices as well.