The Big Brussels Car Market, aka Auto Show

When visiting the leading car shows in Geneva, Paris, and Frankfurt, the carmakers will take you on a journey, showing their grand visions about future mobility with vehicles that merge into houses, are lounges on wheels, or are just crazy, impractical futuristic works of art.

Intermingled are some concept cars and prototypes against a backdrop of some of the latest production models. But that is just half of the exhibitors. The other half are the providers of dreams, the supercars made in ultra-small series of 1 or 5 cars, a group the makes Rolls-Royce and Bentley look mundane.

The “Salon de Brussel” motor show is nothing like those. It is a market where prospective buyers come to sample the wares. The stands are manned by salespeople collecting leads and, if possible, orders. The vehicles on the stands are the best each brand has to offer. It is one gigantic showroom with half a million prospective buyers. All of the brands know that they must score 1/3 of their yearly target in the next two months while the impressions of the show are fresh. Otherwise, they will not reach their target. And they go for it.

The journalists know it, too. In the press room were just a dozen seats, half of them empty. Compare this to the overcrowded halls in Paris and Geneva with hundreds of journalists working. At one stand 5 PR people came out of the woodwork, eager to see a journalist with genuine questions about the brand and their plans. I should have known sooner about this great show, which is just a short (2 hour) drive away.

The opening questions on all stands were the same:

  1. What will the influence of the Dutch car market hitting 50+% EVs be on the Belgian market?
  2. What is your sales prognosis for this year?

Often very interesting discussions followed. Some of them resulted in separate articles, others may follow. But one part was the same on all stands —  the answer to the first question:

What happened in the Netherlands cannot happen in Belgium. There is no coherent government policy. There are no appealing incentives. There is no charging infrastructure. Regulations will likely be changed between the order and the delivery. No one can predict what the policy will be in a few months.

And then came the targets for 2020. Some are realistic. Some come from a European headquarters with no regards for the local challenges. Some can use more ambition. Without knowing the Belgium market far better, without understanding the use cases and how sales decisions are made, without having any idea about marketing budgets and plans, I will not judge these prognoses. I just hope they will all be surpassed.

Now, without judgement and little commentary, on to the numbers.

Opel Corsa. Photo by Maarten Vinkhuyzen

Opel hopes to have 10% to 20% of its Corsa sales being fully electric. With 7,594 vehicles sold in 2019, that amounts to somewhere between 750 and 1,500 vehicles.

PSA luxury brand DS hopes to sell 200–300 of its DS 3 Crossback E-Tense. That is a lot for the brand. PSA thinks it has an advantage with its heat pump–enabled thermal management system for the battery. DS has 100 pre-orders and hopes to convince prospective buyers with longer test drives (8–24 hours) to reach the company goal.

Peugeot e2008 GT-line CUV. Photo by Maarten Vinkhuyzen

Peugeot did have a lot of electric models on the stand, but nobody who could answer a question about 2020 sales numbers. The e2008 GT-line, the CUV based on the previously presented e208, was new to me. It could become one of the better selling BEVs in Europe.

Honda has a European goal of only 10,000 sales of the Honda e. That’s enough to prevent paying a fine to the EU for non-compliance with the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulation, but not much more.

Mazda MX-30. Photo by Maarten Vinkhuyzen

Mazda MX-30 credit Maarten Vinkhuyzen

Mazda MX-30. Photo by Maarten Vinkhuyzen

Mazda was present with its brand new MX-30 on a pedestal, not to be touched by lowly journalists. I failed to translate the shrug of the shoulders of the salesperson into a sales number.

Kia did not really know what to expect. After one of the longer diatribes about the impossible Belgian sales conditions for BEVs, the representative guessed a 1,000 vehicle max.

Mercedes did face too many uncertainties. Its EQC model was still in production hell. The light commercial vehicle (LCV) models are in a separate CAFE category. The EQV is a niche product and the e-Vito will likely have to meet up to 50% of Vito sales to compensate the other, mostly larger, Mercedes LCV models. They did not call it mission impossible, but that was the impression I got.

MG, with its new MG ZS EV, did not face the threat of the CAFE regulations. It is an electric-only brand in most of Europe. Its task is to sell a round 1,000 of the new model.

Hyundai has a relatively aggressive target of 2,500 fully electric vehicles for 2020.

Jaguar hopes for steady growth over 2019, when 509 I-PACE vehicles got a Belgium license plate.

Polestar did not have any reference, being completely new. After some back and forth, we settled on the idea that “a few hundred” should be great.

Mini thinks it will sell about 750 cars, with a focus on companies and charging at work.

Renault was having lunch. I think less than 1,500 BEVs after the 662 ZOE in 2019 would be a disappointment.

Sorry, there is no total for Belgium. I failed to get a quote from the best selling brand, Volkswagen, and the bestselling BEV maker with a 40% market share, Tesla, refused to mention a number.

The 2019 sales amounted to 8,829. That was more than double 2018 sales. The first signals are very positive. A total of around 20,000 seems possible.