More first half of the year car sales records falling, this time on a continental scale. The European car market recorded its best first half performance of the century in H1 2018 with 8.6 million car registrations, up 2.7% year-on-year.

Despite uncertainty in the UK – where the market was down 6.3% – the growth recorded in Germany, France and Spain allowed the overall market to keep growing. But it was the positive economic situation across the continent that boosted results, as midsize markets like the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden all posted increases, while smaller markets like Hungary, Greece, Romania, Croatia and Lithuania posted significant growth.

Of course, the launching of new models spurred growth as well. “It was certainly a good first half for the European market and this is due to the choice that consumers now have. Carmakers continue to update and modernise their traditional models, while the range of SUVs on offer continues to grow and appeal to all kinds of budgets and needs. The diesel crisis certainly affected the speed of growth in the market, but consumers are overcoming this by turning to more attractive gasoline and alternative fuel solutions,” explains Felipe Munoz, JATO’s global analyst.

Let’s start with the winners. There were 2.92 million SUV registrations in H1 2018, up 24% in H1 and 30% in June. Most of the growth was driven by the small SUV sub-segment, which saw a record 1.08 million sales. Only large SUVs saw a decrease, recording a 9% decline to 141,000 units.

Consumers continued to shift towards SUVs at the expense of traditional cars, as registrations for cars (from A-segment to the luxury class) fell by almost 4% to 4.85 million. Subcompacts recorded the highest volume with 1.77 million, but this was still a y-o-y decline of 2%. However, the biggest victim of the SUV boom was the MPV segment, which saw registrations fall by 23% to just 532,600 – one of the lowest results of the last 10 years.

Diesel, once synonymous with European cars, is now being shunned post-Dieselgate, and sales were down 17%. Oil burners accounted for just 37% of the total market, its lowest share since 2001. Diesel’s biggest declines took place in Norway (-32%), the UK (-30%), Slovenia (-28%), Finland (-20%) and Belgium (-20%). Petrol increased its market share from 49% to 56%.

Green cars – hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric cars – posted an increase of 31% for 450,200 registrations, or 5.4% market share. They accounted for 56% of the total market in Norway, 13% in Finland and 11% in Sweden. However, the alternative fuel vehicles only made up 3.4% of the German market.

Moving to brands, it’s to no one’s surprise that the continent’s leader is the Volkswagen Group, which has made up lost time in the SUV segment. Its SUV sales grew 42% in H1 2018, compared to just 3% growth in compact cars. However, the VW Golf is still the top selling car in Europe, and also the chart topper in Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Latvia and Belgium. The VW Group recorded the best ever first half year in its history, delivering 5.5 million vehicles, up 7.1%.

Behind the VW Group is France’s PSA, which now also owns the Opel and Vauxhall brands. As with VW, SUVs drove growth for PSA, with volume up by 62%, compared to a 6% decline for subcompacts and 21% decline for compacts. Overall, PSA sold a record 2.1 million cars in H1 2018, a 38.1% growth.

The VW Golf is the best selling car in Europe, while the Nissan Qashqai is the most popular SUV

The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance completes the sales podium, but the two main brands (Mitsubishi’s European contribution is negligible) lost market share. However, the group was boosted by the budget Dacia range, of which the new Duster and Sandero models performed very well. It was the first time that Renault-Nissan didn’t top the SUV league, losing out to the VW Group.

The Nissan Qashqai continued to perform well, climbing one spot to enter the top five best-selling models and maintaining its position as the best-selling SUV in Europe. However, sales fell by 1% while its closest rival, the Volkswagen Tiguan (excluding Allspace), grew by 1% and was just 5,300 units behind. The Renault Captur was the top-selling small SUV with 121,200 units, ahead of the Peugeot 2008 and Dacia Duster.

The most improved performance came from the Peugeot 3008, while the Volkswagen T-Roc is climbing fast and will be one to watch.