With hundreds of millions in investment at risk, you might expect the car industry to be knee deep in facts and figures. But its also has to chase demographic and behavioural change, both of which have recently switched into fast-forward mode.
Twenty years ago, tastes were very slow to shift. Today, we’re seeing violent shifts in social trends across just a few years. For example, the UK market for city cars has leapt from 90,000 in 2005 to over 200,000 units last year, which means other market niches are seeing commensurate shrinkage.
But car makers have to drill down much further than these top-line figures to reveal deeper trends. Some of them are counter-intuitive: one Skoda boss told me that apart from MPVs, city cars are the most likely type of vehicle to have children travelling in the rear seats.
Such a revelation helped steer the styling of the Skoda Citigo, because potential purchasers want such a car to look as solidly-built as possible. It probably also drove the decision to make access the rear in three-door easy for children, although the result is a huge door. (In fact, the B-pillar is placed so far rearwards, the side- and head-bags are mounted in the Citigo’s seat).
Equally, Europe’s collapsing birthrate – the average family size is now under two children – has resulted in sales of seven-seat MPVs falling five years on the trot.
So, imagine you were trying to project the future shape of the UK entry-level car market. You’d have to consider that 40 per cent of the population will be saddled with big tuition fee debts, that over sixty perc ent of graduates will be female and families will get even smaller.
Oh, and the number of under-25s with a driving licence is dropping and the current average age of a Mini and Smart buyer is around 43.
Out of that mix, what would you extrapolate? If you concluded that, by 2030, the car industry is doomed and that it was time to build scooters and bicycles, I might be tempted to agree.