Fiat's Punto finished 1997 as Europe's best-selling car.
Although final registration figures will not be announced by national licensing authorities for weeks, the Punto clearly interrupted the reign of the traditional leader, Volkswagen's Golf.
Fiat sold around 575,000 units of the Punto last year, about 4.2 percent of the market. Its fortunes were boosted substantially by the Italian government's scrappage-linked sales incentives, which helped Italian sales rise by more than 50 percent.
The Punto was helped by the misfortunes of the Golf. The changeover to the fourth generation in August and a slower ramp-up than expected wiped out almost a quarter of the Golf's 1996 volume.
The battle for third place was a three-way fight between the aging Opel Astra, the rising star Renault Megane and the Opel Corsa.
Ford's Fiesta dropped to seventh place after a 25 percent fall inflicted not only by the VW Polo but also by its Ka sibling. The Escort looks precarious in eighth position as sales are down 10 percent.
December sales are still uncounted, but no races in the high-volume segments are undecided. The winners are the Peugeot 106 (mini), Fiat Punto (supermini), VW Golf (lower medium) and Opel Vectra (upper medium).
In 1998 the Ford Ka could challenge in the mini segment, and in the lower-medium segment, Opel's switchover to the new Astra may allow Renault's Megane to take second place.
Volvo's S70/V70 could snatch third place in the mid-luxury sector from the Audi A6, behind the customary leaders, the Mercedes E-class and BMW 5 series.
The sports market was turned upside down in 1997 by the arrival of the BMW Z3 and Mercedes SLK roadsters. Each now outsells the BMW 3 series coupe.