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Popular cars of the 80s, 90s & beyond


Which car brands dominated the eighties, nineties and noughties and what motors will we be driving in the future?

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Many of us motorists have a favourite car – whether it’s the first one we owned, or the first new car we ever bought.

But which car manufacturers and brands dominated the eighties, nineties and noughties UK car market, and what motors will we be driving in the future?

I spoke with Michael Cole, the managing director of Kia Motors, to find out his recollection of the motoring industry.

The 80s

In the eighties, Ford dominated the car market. "I joined Ford in 1982," Cole says. "They had 30 per cent of the new car market in the early 80s.

The Ford Fiesta, Escort and Sierra were the top three brands.

Cole says that between them, Austin Rover, Vauxhall and Ford had 55 per cent of all the car sales in the UK in the early 80s.

"The market was a lot simpler then,” he adds.

"So with Ford, for example, the Escort was its small family car, the Mondeo was the large family car and the Granada was the executive car."

Now, Cole explains, the car market is much more segmented. So there is more than one type of small car for example, such as city cars, super minis and small family cars to name a few.

Cole adds: "People also aspired to big cars then, whereas now we prefer smaller, multi-purpose vehicles and compact sports utility vehicles with flexible seat arrangements."

The 90s

In the nineties brands such as Ford, Vauxhall and Austin Rover remained popular but new entrants were making their way in, says Cole.

"One change in the nineties was that Japanese brands such as Toyota and Honda came through in the UK car market.

"The Germans made progress as well with cars such as the Volkswagen Golf and Polo becoming more dominant in the UK car market.”

"In the nineties, the Escort became the Focus and cars became a little bit bigger," Cole says.

The noughties

The cost of producing a car is high, explains Cole.

That’s why in this decade you saw car manufacturers partner up, says Cole, and shaing designs.

One example of this is the Toyota Aygo, Peugeot107 and the Citroen C1 which are the same car but with different badges on.

However, Ford continued to lead with the Focus remaining popular with car buyers.

Ford currently has around 15 per cent of the car market in the UK, compared with double this in the eighties, Cole says, but it still remains the number one selling brand in the UK.

The UK car market: Then and now

"The difference in the car market then and now is that competition is more fierce. Also, customer buying habits have changed.

"If you were buying 30 years ago Ford was an automatic choice, it was the people’s car.

"People were more loyal to brands then. Now there’s competition from German brands, Japanese brands, Korean brands such as Kia, and the French as well.

"In the next 30 years there will be more competition from Chinese and Indian brands as well."

Versatile and economical

Consumers want more and more versatile, practical multi-purpose vehicles, says Cole.

"I have a Kia Sorrento sports utility vehicle," he says. "It’s a seven seater, although there are only four in my family and a dog.

"But the other day six of us went out in it. That’s the sort of versatility consumers increasingly want from their car.

"The general trend is towards downsizing and I can see that continuing.

"Because of consumer demand, I think we will see manufacturers trying to offer smaller vehicles that offer maximum flexibility.

Cole says manufacturers will be looking at producing cars that are less weighty so are more fuel-efficient. Smaller cars are also cheaper when it comes to buying car insurance.

"With the Kia Rio for example, it can achieve more than 80 mpg. We also offer a seven year warranty on new cars.

"It’s this sort of thing buyers are looking for if you’re asking them to part with their hard earned cash."

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