The global car market contracted by approximately 5 % during the year under review. The Western European sales market posted stable growth and even the US market almost remained at the previous year’s level, declining by only 1 %. Global weakness in demand was mainly due to the continued unfavorable development of the Chinese market, which contracted by nearly 10 % and was thus much weaker than in 2018. (See graphic B.06)
All in all, car sales were relatively stable in Europe. Within Western Europe, the German market expanded slightly by about 5 %. The small increase of just under 2 % that was recorded in France meant that sales there remained at about the prior-year level. Demand was rather weak in the UK, however, with sales falling by about 2 %. Sales markets in Central and Eastern Europe were generally slightly weaker than in the previous year. Whereas car sales in the Central and Eastern European markets of the EU remained robust and showed some growth, they declined slightly in Russia. However, the main reason for the region’s sales decrease was the double-digit drop recorded by the Turkish market.
Thanks to a still comparatively favorable economic environment, the market volume for cars and light trucks in the United States once again reached a high level with sales of around 17 million units. In comparison with the previous year, this corresponds to a slight drop of just over 1 %. The segment shift toward pickups and SUVs continued, while conventional sedans saw demand decline significantly once again.
The weakness of the Chinese car market continued during the year under review. The drop in demand of nearly 10 % was even larger than in 2018. This decrease is attributed mainly to the noticeable slowdown of economic growth, the insecurity of car buyers due to the ongoing trade dispute with the United States, and the continued negative aftereffects of the market stimulus measures of previous years. However, the premium segment, which is especially relevant for Mercedes-Benz, proved to be robust and once again grew substantially.
Meanwhile, car demand declined slightly in Japan. The small drop for the year as a whole was primarily due to the weak fourth quarter, when sales declined as a result of the sales-tax increase in early October. The Indian market decreased sharply due to the unexpectedly weak development of the country’s economy.
Demand for medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks developed very disparately in the markets relevant to our operations. Despite the slackening of economic growth, the market in the NAFTA region, which was already at a very high level, expanded by another 8 % in classes 6 to 8, although this dynamism weakened considerably in the second half of the year.
The truck market in the EU30 region (the European Union, Switzerland and Norway) remained relatively robust, given the region’s rather weak macroeconomic performance. However, demand shifted considerably as the year progressed. A regulatory change that took effect in mid-June caused earlier-than-planned purchases in the first half of 2019 and an unusually large number of new registrations. In contrast, the market development was much weaker in the second half of the year. Despite this, the market was at about the prior-year high level during the year as a whole. Although economic growth was rather disappointing in Brazil, the dynamic recovery of the country’s truck market continued with expansion of 34 %. In Turkey, the economic crisis caused the truck market to contract significantly at a double-digit rate. Truck demand also decreased somewhat in Russia due to the weak economic situation.
The Japanese market for light-, medium- and heavy-duty trucks was influenced during the year by regulatory changes and a sales-tax increase in early October. As a result, demand decreased especially in the last few months of the year. However, unit sales during the year as a whole were at about the same level as in 2018. The market in Indonesia declined substantially in 2019. The Indian market for medium- and heavy-duty trucks developed very poorly and contracted at a clear double-digit rate. In China, demand for heavy-duty trucks remained stable at an unusually high level.
Demand for vans continued to develop positively in the EU30 region in 2019. Here, market volume in the combined segment for mid-size and large vans increased by 4 %, while demand for small vans rose by 6 %. The market for mid-size pickups remained at the prior-year level. In Germany, overall sales in the combined segment for mid-size and large vans increased by 8 %. Demand for large vans in the United States expanded significantly. Demand in the market for mid-size vans that we address in China was slightly lower than in the previous year. Driven by developments in Brazil, the market volume for large vans in Latin America rose substantially from the low level of the previous year.
The market volume for buses in the EU30 region was significantly above the high level of the previous year. The situation in Latin America (excluding Mexico) improved considerably due to the noticeable market recovery in Brazil, although growth in the region was slowed by a sharp market contraction in Argentina. As a result of the ongoing difficult economic situation in Turkey, demand for buses once again decreased significantly there compared with 2018.