The decline in new car sales is largely attributable to the collapse of the lease market. Dealers are selling a record number of used cars this year and with safe private lease constructions there is still some trade on the private market for new cars.
Because of its popularity, a medium SUV is, after all, very affordable in the private lease and then private individuals often ‘buy’. Add to this a slightly decreasing number of after-sales passageways in the garages and the conclusion is that the pain in the automotive turnover is mainly incurred in the lease cars. And what is still being sold for business is increasingly electric. Because whether working from home or not, the company cars that need to be replaced all go out for an electric newcomer. The plug-in trend is continuing in the lease world with increasing persuasiveness, especially now that companies are facing downturns.
The biggest victim of the business-to-business malaise is undoubtedly the traditional sedan. For years, the four-door silhouette was the leader of the business market, premium brands built specific model lines to continue to provide representatives and consultants with their perfect four-door car. But the love for the sedan seems to be on the wane. SUVs, but also plug-in cars are gnawing at the exclusive right of the business sedan. What now?
Is there anything that can be done about marketing for the C-class-like cars or is the year of lockdowns the last push for this once so successful segment car?
Provided that the Mercedes Benz C-class is of course a very nice car. Correct proportions, a nice build quality and an interior to lick your fingers. The 190D was not a bad start in the 1980s. Solid and able to drive five or six tons without any problems. It was also good, could be generously dressed and the build quality was already of an unprecedented high level. Over the years, Mercedes Benz learned new things and transformed the 190 of yesteryear via various Cs into the limousine that it is today. Now bigger than the E then, the brother of the 190 at the time called W123. In 1985 the W124 followed, a model that was so good that it still makes a lot of money as a young timer to this day. Recently from this W124 model line I admired a 500E from a friend. What a machine (with V8 by the way) and how well the device is still assembled 25 years later. It is clear: Mercedes Benz knows how to build real classic sedans like no other. In addition to Mercedes Benz, Audi and BMW also have a patent for the delivery of chic business sedans. Personally, I am still impressed by the 5-series line, which delivers generation after generation such a beautiful combination of driving pleasure and modest lifestyle. At Audi they are often better in the larger sedans as far as I am concerned. Because of its sporty stretch, the A8 is in any case the sedan that you would really like to have as an industrial manager. Powerful and graceful at the same time. In any case, Germans know how to build a real sedan like no other.
The four-door cars sold like hot cakes over the B2B counter for years. In the late 1980s, Vectra’s and Peugeot 405’s scored a top 10 position without any difficulty.
That means that in terms of annual numbers, they did more than today’s runners. Sedans as an essential part of the sales performance of the car market. You can hardly imagine it now, that now only happens on typical sedan markets such as Spain or Turkey. In our own country, Audi suffers, for example, from Teslas, cars that, however you turn or turn, are much less well put together than the premium package that Audi supplies.
Mercedes Benz still offers the beautiful model line from C, via E to S, but there too the SUVs are gnawing at the sales numbers of the C and E in particular. The range contains more and more niches and these are not sedans. The lucky thing is that the S-Class remains the best car in the world and SUVs usually don’t gain in beauty as they get bigger. The X7 from competitor BMW, for example, you do not buy for the beautiful design, with such a mega-SUV you mainly make an I-participate-statement. An expression that may have been seriously motivated by the overdose of marketing on this kind of “crossed” luxury vehicles, because every brand communicates firmly on SUVs and hardly returns to the tri-corps of yesteryear in its advertising. Even though they still have that beautiful line, they look extremely appetizing with chic leather upholstery and the classic sliding roof can at least open. Nevertheless, the well-brokered sedan customers are increasingly moving towards the dominant, but oh-so-trendy X7-esque. That is the reality.
Valuable or not?
Sedans… Are they still sufficiently valued by the industry? Yes and no. In any case, in terms of marketing, they are increasingly falling out of the plan. No media needed, because car brands want to rejuvenate, have to get rid of the 55-year-plus target group and want to get hip girls and trendy boys in. You do that with cool SUVs and fast hatchbacks. The premium brands still keep a middle class and top class sedan in the range. Play something with it too. Just look at the Mercedes engineers who managed to turn their current A-class into a beautiful sedan and can offer the customer – who might find this trunk variant too frumpy – the much sportier CLA.
Audi is doing the same with the A3, while BMW is also looking for sedan niches with slightly different accents. With German volume brands, on the other hand, it seems that the drawing board is only producing SUVs. They are investing en masse on the so-called double trend movement. SUV and electrified together. They then push that offer further into the market through their marketing, which is also what more and more customers want. The Japanese Toyota follows two more tracks and serves the sedan market with the Camry. For those who find that too old-fashioned, there are crossovers in the Japanese range.
The French also seem to slowly forget the 4-door sedan. In the Paris region it is raining SUVs and crossovers and, since government incentives, often electrically powered
That may have been different, because once my first introduction to the Peugeot PR department was the launch of the Peugeot 607. I will never forget that on Saturday morning I barely got away from a Dortmund’s gas station with one of the first copies because of the great enthusiasm for the limousine. Complete euphoria of the (German) public about a French four-door. Attention that the car received mainly because of its chic limousine line, then still hip. The introduction campaign was therefore also under the motto “style does not scream”. I still think that is a fantastic choice of words for the promotion of a sedan. Also a pay-off that would then help the 607 enter the world of the higher business segment via all premium magazines and AB1 niches.
If you couldn’t go to customers in a BMW – because too much – you could do it in a luxury Peugeot. Such was the belief at the introduction. It didn’t help the 607 very much, because although it was equipped with delicious diesels and the most beautiful equipment, the six-cent-Sept has remained relatively rare and the businessman eventually went to the customer in his BMW. Today, only the sporty Peugeot 508 and the tastefully styled Renault Talisman are left in the French country, because Citroën has, after the final chord of the C5, for the time being invested in the cross-over trend. Perhaps also with the opinion that the recently unveiled DS9 will keep the tri-corps fans on board with PSA. We shall see. Finally, a quick look at the Italian sedan malaise. Only the Alfa Romeo Giulia and two Maseratis are left here.
Unknown makes unloved and that is perhaps the main reason that many sedans no longer reach the highest sales ratings
The lack of communication makes the business driver look further into a different segment. Or else you have to look at another form of mobility. The increasing number of people working from home means that companies look at lease cars differently. Car-sharing concepts, a mobility budget, and private lease constructions are rapidly gaining popularity now that fewer and fewer companies are willing to pay for an expensive lease sedan that has been idle for a long time.
Forward-looking car brands are therefore also working on bicycle plans and 360-degree mobility concepts. Louwman, importer of Toyota and Suzuki, among others, is such an example, and within the walls of Pon we look further than just the classic (sedan) car. On the other hand, manufacturers are developing new crossovers and using electrification to further experiment with existing body shapes. For example, look at the new 100% electric Volkswagen ID. A fresh design is being created there and a little leasing company can already know that the necessary Passat’s will be exchanged.
So the sedan’s declining popularity has several causes. First of all, the manufacturers are increasingly “marketing” us consumers to the SUV by presenting it as hip. And that works because the market today demands higher crossovers and other body concepts. Manufacturers make choices with expensive media campaigns, keeping their ATL focus on the “runners”. After all, these models bring the most leads to the website. Electrification also ensures that other types of construction become more attractive.
A low sports sedan with a receding roofline and a mega battery pack for a long range is not the most convenient combination. It is better to put a battery floor under an already higher SUV. In addition, current social development is accelerating trends. Working from home affects our mobility needs and the sustainability focus of many companies also results in a relevant change in lease car policy at companies. Now that the lease market is under pressure, the door is wide open for new changes. That makes the position of the luxury sedan even more difficult.
The “thick” sedan therefore does not always fit in the picture anymore, costs a lot and depreciates faster. More and more directors prefer to buy off mobility. Fortunately for the freaks, you can also buy those fat (German) four-door on the second-hand market with a good mobility budget. And then you have to run, because since Corona pluses those second-hand ones on all sides, there is even a shortage of beautiful used cars. Marketing or not, as soon as we start shopping second-hand, it shows again how popular the traditional four-door sedan still is.
Jos van den Bergh (1973) worked for almost 20 years in various PR & communication positions in the automotive industry and nowadays advises with his company MediaMondo automotive and media parties in the field of marketing communication, PR and media. He is also a dealer marketing advisor to BranchePartners in Houten. For MarketingTribune he critically follows the developments in the automotive world. Do you also need marketing advice? Mail Jos without obligation at firstname.lastname@example.org