German automotive industry association, the VDA, said the volatility was because of distortions caused by the new Worldwide Light-Duty Vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP), which is intended to achieve more accurate monitoring of emissions from passenger cars.
“After the strong registration figures in August, we expected this movement in the opposite direction,” said association president Bernhard Mattes.
Earlier this year, the Association of European Vehicle Logistics (ECG) warned that WLTP could disrupt logistics involving the storage and delivery of new vehicles.
As manufacturers phased out non-compliant older models, dealers looked to sell existing stock before the European legislation came into force on 1 September. They are now subject to punitive emissions-related tax increases adversely affecting sale prices.
Registrations of German-made cars in September were 127,100 (down 37% year-on-year), foreign makes 73,000 (down 15%), while exports were 320,400 (down 21%) and production 401,800 (down 24%), according to the VDA.
The association pointed out that the figures were also affected by one less working day in September, as well as the switch to WLTP.
The variance has led to problems finding capacity on outbound transport. The sudden escalation in sales had an impact on finished vehicle logistics providers in Europe, with high levels of congestion reported at terminals and ports. The increase in deliveries that have been approved throughout November and December will also test capacity.
Germany’s DB Cargo said there had been a high demand on rail wagon capacity, longer lead times on delivery and “sub-optimal use of equipment” which led to cancellations.
Meanwhile, BLG Logistics, also based in Germany, said that over the course of the year it had increasingly noticed the impact of the various preparations made by manufacturers on services.
Despite the September dip, the VDA said passenger car registrations in Germany for 2018 were still higher in the first nine months at 2.67m, an increase of 2% on the corresponding period of 2017.
The emissions’ legislation impacted on the big three German car groups to varying degrees.
Volkswagen sold 18% fewer vehicles worldwide in September at 827,700, with the group saying the WLTP factor had a noticeable impact in Western Europe – down 41.5% to 199,600.
Group sales chief Christian Dahlheim said: “As expected, we delivered considerably fewer vehicles in September due to the WLTP changeover. This will continue to impact deliveries in Europe in October, and we expect November and December to be stronger months in this region.”
For the nine months, company-wide sales were 4.2% higher at 8.13m, with Western Europe at 2.82m, up 3.1%. In Germany, September’s sales were 45.2% lower at 58,700, but 3.5% higher during the nine months at 1m.
Mercedes-Benz reported an 8.2% year-on-year decline in September’s worldwide sales to 202,800 units. The nine-month tally was little different year-on-year at 1.715m
In Europe, Mercedes-Benz sold 91,600 vehicles in September (down 9.4%) and 689,000 January to September (down 4.7%). In Germany, the respectively figures were 22,800 (down 16.7%) and 217,943 (down 5.6%).
“Mercedes-Benz certified its entire fleet for Europe according to the WLTP standard with effect as of September 1,” it said. “Certified vehicles are already on their way to the retailers, but despite the ongoing strong demand, it was not possible to fulfil all customers’ wishes in September.”
Sales were also impacted by delays in certification in some international markets and by model changes, the group added.
BMW’s worldwide deliveries in September decreased 0.8% to 237,800 as, it said, the company continued to follow a policy of prioritising profitable growth. The month was also affected by intense competition in Europe, added BMW, which has warned financial markets that it expects this year earnings to be lower than first anticipated.
Pieter Nota, management board member responsible for sales, accepted the WLTP testing procedure distorted the market in the third quarter. “As we planned well ahead for the WLTP changeover, virtually all our current models are WLTP type-approved,” he added.
The group’s sales in Germany in September were 28,500 (down 3.3%), and 231,300 (down 0.9%) in the nine months. Worldwide sales were 1.83m, up 1.3% year-on-year, in the nine months. Group sales include those of the Mini and Rolls-Royce.
Read more about the impact of the WLTP on European carmakers in the Oct-Dec edition of Finished Vehicle Logistics magazine