Friday, 28 September 2007

Brits and their shiny new cars

The British have a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards cars. Nobody gets very upset when UK car factories close, taking proud names with them, and, over the years, we've had enormous difficulty sustaining even a small to medium-sized national motor show.

But we buy more cars in relation to our population than just about anyone else in Europe. A few years ago, I produced a quick piece of analysis for the Independent that showed that Britain bought more cars per head than any other European country apart from Luxembourg and, if I remember correctly, Belgium, which just shaded us for second place. But the UK was significantly ahead of car-mad Germany, for example, an indication of how prosperous Britain has become since the seventies, when we were the EU's poor relations. I mentioned this last finding to one of the industry's foremost analysts and so at odds was it with his picture of the sector that he simply refused to believe it. But I checked my numbers and they were correct.

I haven't done the figures but I think Germany nosed ahead of the UK again last year in terms of car sales per head of population, but that was probably a one-off brought about by a mini-boom in German car sales ahead of a VAT increase that came in at the end of 2006. Yesterday, the Financial Times Deutschland was reporting that German car sales have gone off the boil again this year but also mentioned some other interesting facts. The average age of the cars on German roads is 8.1 years - only Portugal, Greece and Finland have older cars - compared with 7.1 years in the UK.

The Germans like their sausages but these days, it seems, bangers are what they drive, rather than what they eat.


Oliver Daniel said...

Surely the much more interesting and forward looking figure would be "bicycles per head" - any data on this?

Better still "decrease in car ownership per household" or at least "decrease in number of trips by car" and "decreased milage" ...

Liked your article though ;-)

David Wilkins said...

Yes, I agree this stuff would be an interesting comparison - this question is almost certainly not as simple as it appears on the surface. Also, I wonder whether British people buy more cars because they don't think they can rely on the British trains - although for some mysterious reason, the UK is also unusual in having strongly growing passenger rail travel as well.