I think the middle market is starting to fight back. The recovery has been a while coming, given that it has probably been about 20 years since budget brands decided that they didn’t only want to be budget brands any more, and about the same amount of time since premium brands decided they didn’t want to be just premium brands anymore.
Kia, Hyundai and Skoda opted to move, little by little, into the midmarket sector. And Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW did the same from the other end – an end from which it is rather easier to move, because we’d all like a £15,000 Audi, but no one wants a £50,000 Hyundai.
And a squeeze it is. Not much more than a decade ago, the top 10 best sellers in the UK would have been three Fords, three Vauxhalls (all ordinary hatchbacks and saloons), the Volkswagen Golf, a couple of French cars and something like the Nissan Micra. But today, Ford and Vauxhall can count on just two each – small cars, too, on which it’s hard to make large profits – with six spaces ripe for the taking by others.
The Peugeot 306 used to be the eighth best-selling car in the country. Today, its equivalent isn’t even the eighth best-selling car in its class. Today’s top 10 usually includes a BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Audi. There will be Nissans still, too, because with extraordinary foresight, Nissan saw the demand for SUVs and crossovers coming. Or perhaps it created it. Who knows? But for too long the rest of the mid-market sat steady, just doing what it always did and hoping that the market would come back to it.
Belatedly, it appears to have realised that that approach isn’t going to wash anymore. A flurry of new cars are being introduced and they are, finally, interesting.