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Investigation: Winners and losers – the car manufacturers that triumphed and faltered in 2021

As the automotive industry says goodbye to 2021 and prepares for whatever 2022 can throw at it, we take a look at the triumphs and tribulations among the marques – and there are one or two surprises!

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It’s been a funny old year for the car market, with on and off restrictions, stock shortages and used cars that are worth more than new.

But in among all that there have been some success stories – as well as some brands that have really struggled.

Here are our winners and losers for 2021, all of which is based on SMMT data from January to November.

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Cupra from Winners and Losers feature, CD 166

Registrations to date in 2021: 7,020
Registrations to date in 2020: 55
Sales increase: 12,663.64 per cent

Eighteen months ago, Cupra didn’t exist. But so far this year, Seat’s oddball performance-luxury offshoot has clearly found a niche, with 7,020 new cars registered by the end of November.

That translates to a whopping 12,663.64 per cent increase! Critically, those sales haven’t come at the expense of Seat, either.

The Spanish brand has seen a two per cent sales increase of its own, despite many of its models evolving into Cupras. Now THAT’S a success story!


Polestar from Winners and Losers feature, CD 166

Registrations to date in 2021: 3,663
Registrations to date in 2020: 608
Sales increase: 502.47 per cent

The Swedish-Chinese Volvo EV offshoot is really starting to get noticed, making a dent in the success of the Tesla 3 in the premium compact executive EV market.

So far in 2021, Polestar has shifted 3,663 examples of the stylish Polestar 2 – the BMW 3 Series of the electrified generation.

Even with a price tag of £49,900 before you’ve glanced at the options list, it’s a car that has clearly fired a few imaginations, and the brand can only grow from there.


Subaru Levorg from Winners and Losers feature, CD 166

Registrations to date in 2021: 1,931
Registrations to date in 2020: 823
Sales increase: 134.63 per cent

Sales of 1,931 and a market share of 0.5 per cent might not seem worth shouting about too loudly, but for Subaru this is a 135 per cent sales increase over 2020 and related directly to the brand taking on a full review of the business and its network.

The move includes a new management team, with the appointment of former Citroen Ireland managing director Pat Ryan as its new MD, Kevin Hilliard as brand director and ex-Vauxhall man Bryan Cliff as events and PR manager.

Subaru is set to launch an EV next year. For a brand that many in the UK wrote off, the future is looking more positive.


MG ZS EV from Winners and Losers feature, CD 166

Registrations to date in 2021: 29,474
Registrations to date in 2020: 16,994
Sales increase: 73.44 per cent

MG is arguably the most desirable new franchise out there at the moment, as proved by its network growing by more than 40 dealers in 2021.

There are now over 150 MG dealers, and between them they’ll have cracked 30,000 cars by the end of the year – almost half of them battery-electric.

That’s an incredible performance from a brand that was nowhere just a couple of years ago – almost half of Hyundai’s year-to-date volume, with a seven-year warranty and an engaged customer base and dealer network.

There’s a new ZS EV on the scene now and it offers a 270-mile range. Dealers are selling them with their eyes shut.


Hyundai Ioniq from Winners and Losers feature, CD 166

Registrations to date in 2021: 64,940
Registrations to date in 2020: 44,141
Sales increase: 47.12 per cent

South Korean brands have generally been less affected by the global semiconductor crisis than their peers.

And with 64,940 sales by the end of November, Hyundai is back on track.

The Kona and plug-in Ioniq have boosted sales, while a series of heritage-inspired EVs point to some curiosities around the corner.


Kia from Winners and Losers feature, CD 166

Registrations to date in 2021: 87,914
Registrations to date in 2020: 66,948
Sales increase: 31.32 per cent

Kia was always going to bounce right back, and the 87,914 registrations it has achieved so far in 2021 put it in sixth place overall in the UK car market – ahead of Vauxhall and snapping on the heels of Toyota.

Fresh models such as the new Sportage and soon-to-be-launched new e-Niro will help it continue its stride in 2022.



Mitsubishi Outlander from Winners and Losers feature, CD 166

Registrations to date in 2021: 5,125
Registrations to date in 2020: 8,545
Sales decrease: 40.02 per cent

Most Mitsubishi dealerships in the UK have closed now as the brand brings its European presence to an end.

Of the 5,125 units registered this year, around half have been pre-registered to clear forecourts as dealers clamour to get new brands through the doors, with MG, Isuzu and SsangYong being the main beneficiaries.


Renault Arkana from Winners and Losers feature, CD 166

Registrations to date in 2021: 27,817
Registrations to date in 2020: 40,941
Sales decrease: 32.06 per cent

Renault has been hit really hard by the semiconductor shortage, which has affected its ability to supply cars across all European markets.

The Zoe continues to do well in the EV market but is rapidly ageing, and the rest of the model range is in limited supply.

Its sales are down by nearly a third, and with buyers moving to different brands with better availability, such as Kia, Hyundai and MG, it could be a very difficult position for the French maker to return from.


Ford from Winners and Losers feature, CD 166

Registrations to date in 2021: 111,332
Registrations to date in 2020: 141,298
Sales decrease: 21.21 per cent

Ford’s story is similar to Renault’s because of the semiconductor crisis, and it looks as if by the end of 2021 the Blue Oval will relinquish its position as the UK’s best-selling car brand for the first time in four decades.

As well as the global chip shortage, Ford has also seen the drop-off in diesel sales hit its fleet sector presence.

Its fall in registrations means it’s slipped behind Volkswagen as the UK’s best-selling brand, and with no end in sight to the semiconductor problems, its bounce-back may take some time…


Jaguar XF from Winners and Losers feature, CD 166

Registrations to date in 2021: 17,535
Registrations to date in 2020: 22,127
Sales decrease: 20.75 per cent

It’s a good job that Jaguar has its I-Pace EV and E-Pace SUV, since sales of the brand’s other models – the XE and XF – have fallen off a cliff as the market shift from fossil fuels continues.

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But it’s a challenging time for Jaguar, with an ageing customer demographic and a need to diversify further to engage new buyers.

The new product is coming, but for the dealers it can’t come soon enough.

This feature appears in issue 166 of Car Dealer, which is packed with news, views, reviews, interviews and more. You can read and download the magazine free via this link.

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Car Dealer has been covering the motor trade since 2008 as both a print and digital publication. In 2020 the title went fully digital and now provides daily motoring updates on this website for the car industry. A digital magazine is published once a month.

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