VIENNA - Sales dropped 10.6 percent to 275,001 from last year's exceptional boom.
The Volkswagen group dominates sales, with 29.2 percent of the market.
Although a model change kept the Golf in short supply in the last third of the year, the car retained its No. 1 position, with 17,011 registrations. It was followed by the Passat (12,693), Polo (10,335) and Opel Astra (9,874).
Skoda was a big gainer. It raised its market share from 2.9 percent to 4.0 percent.
Diesels have 53.3 percent of the market thanks to direct-injection models. Two-thirds of new registrations have engines up to 90hp, and 12.4 percent have more than 120hp.
Fleet sales rose dramatically, from 6,405 in 1996 to 9,143 in 1997.
A spokesman for the Austrian dealers group said net earnings were 1 percent of total revenue from sales of new and used cars of Sch125 billion ($10 billion).
BRUSSELS - Belgian sales were almost flat compared with 1996. Sales fell to 396,240 from 397,359.
An improving economy and a successful Brussels Motor Show justify a forecast of 405,000 for this year, say Belgian industry sources.
The Volkswagen brand kept its No. 1 position with 54,781 cars. VW has been the top brand for 18 years.
The Golf, Belgium's top car since 1987, lost 1.3 points of market share (to 4.7 percent) because of short supply of the new model.
Opel became Belgium's second best-selling brand with a 15.6 percent sales increase (to 45,192) after Renault suffered a decline in popularity because it closed the Vilvoorde plant. Renault was off 12.3 percent, to 38,357 units. Ford fell 6.6 percent, 36,876 units.
Toyota remains Belgium's largest Japanese carmaker (seventh at 18,691), but Nissan rose 22 percent to 13,842 sales. Honda was up 21 percent.
Wim Oude Weernink
COPENHAGEN - Sales were up 7.3 percent to 152,643 passenger cars, the highest in 10 years.
The Volkswagen Polo was the most popular car (8,055 units), beating the Ford Mondeo (6,950) and Toyota Corolla (6,132).
The 1986 record year showed a total of 169,386 passenger cars, the highest in Danish history. Between 1988 and 1993 sales were between 81,000 and 89,000.
Part of the success of the market was a change in taxation from the weight of the vehicle to its fuel economy.
'In the years to come, the Danish car branch will meet big challenges,' said Bent Mikkelsen, managing director of the Danish car importers group. 'We will see a rising harmonizing in the EU countries, especially a considerable harmonization of the prices because of the implementation of the Euro from 1 January 1999.
'Danish politicians must realize that Denmark cannot continue with the extremely high taxation of new cars (150-240 percent) in a common market.'
TALLINN - Nearly 13,500 new vehicles were sold in Estonia, 7,050 more than in 1996.
Of the total, 11,000 units are cars, said Jaak Uudla, chairman of the Automobile Sale and Service Enterprises Union.
Toyota was the leading brand, with 1,550 sales, followed by Honda (1,443) and Volkswagen (1,043).
HELSINKI - Sales were up 9.1 percent, to 104,507.
Finland has had a volatile sales history, as low as 55,836 in 1993, and as high as the record 176,700 in 1989.
The VW Passat led the market, at 6,304 units, while the Ford Escort and Mondeo tied for second at 5,201.
'The Finnish people again believe in a stable economy,' said Rea Lindgren of the Information Center of Automobile Branch.
He said customers again have become willing to borrow money for cars.
The average Finnish car is 10 years old, said Lindgren, which promises a steady replacement market. 'Our biggest problem in 1997 has been the waiting time for some brands, six months for Volkswagen,' he said.
Pekka Puputti, who heads the Finnish importers organization, forecasts a 1998 market of 110,000 passenger cars.
amsterdam - Dutch car sales rose by 1.3 percent to 478,300 as the economy remained healthy.
Sales are expected to grow marginally again this year to 480,000. The average price for new cars went up by 3 percent to Fl39,645 ($19,630).
Cars with automatic transmissions exceeded a 10 percent market share for the first time.
Despite a sales decline of 2.5 percent, the Opel brand retained its leading position, which it has held for the past 29 years in the Netherlands. Opel sold 62,427 cars, giving it a 14.5 percent market share. The Astra was the top-selling model with 25,810 units, about 5,000 ahead of the VW Golf.
Volkswagen was the leading group in Holland, with 78,968 units, 5,608 up from 1996.
French makes did very well, PSA up 10 percent to 50,320, and Renault up 16 percent to 39,328. Mitsubishi more than doubled its Carisma sales (from 3,297 to 7,815 units) thanks to aggressive advertising. Nissan, Subaru and the Korean marques lost sales.
Wim Oude Weernink
Sales of new cars rose 8.7 percent in 1997 to produce a record market of just over 136,600 units. The biggest selling model was the Ford Fiesta (6.4 percent share), followed by the VW Polo (6.2) and the Toyota Corolla (4.3).
Ten years ago, new car sales were just 55,732 units.
The final days of a three-year government scrappage incentive boosted the market at the normally quiet end of the year. Some 50,000 cars have been scrapped since the scheme began 30 months ago. Its end will have a negative impact on sales. However, industry sources still anticipate a market of 100,000-110,000 units this year.
Cheap finance and other retail incentives are expected to keep the market buoyant in 1998. Incentives vary, but include free road tax, free insurance and zero percent finance. For example, Nissan Ireland is offering buyers of new Primera models either free comprehensive insurance or free use of a new Micra for a year.
Ford was market leader for 1997 with a share of 12.9 percent followed by Opel (11.5) and VW (11.2). The strongest performer among the smaller mainstream marques was Renault, whose sales rose 47.5 percent to give the company a market share of 6.2 percent.
OSLO - Sales rose 2.2 percent to 127,733 as a new tax system lowered the price of cars to consumers. The Toyota Corolla was No. 1 with 8,003 cars, followed by the Opel Vectra (5,647) and VW Passat (5,268).
The new tax system that replaced a weight-value method 'made many cars much cheaper, on average NKr25,000 ($3,300) less,' said Finn Tandberg, managing director of the association of Norwegian car importers Bilimportoerernes Landsforening. 'We also had a scrapping premium of NKr6,000 ($800).'
He said that very low sales in the early 1990s make the present market short of used cars, causing 30,000 used cars to be imported from Germany.
New financing systems helped the Polish market rise 25 percent to 477,960 cars in 1997. Half of Poland's buyers borrowed money, many using arrangements between automakers and local banks.
Fiat was the market leader with a 35 percent share (167,099 units) and the most popular model, the Cinquecento. Daewoo held 26 percent of the market (125,679 units). The Daewoo Polonez was the No. 2 model. Opel (44,003), Skoda (25,372), Renault (20,737) and Ford (17,884) followed.
The top players offer locally assembled models in the lower- and medium-lower price brackets. Tax, custom and import regulations virtually eliminate Japanese manufacturers, whose EU-originated models are too expensive for the general public. Daewoo and Fiat are pricing cars aggressively as they battle in the lower and medium segments.
Controversy over car assembly practices and the tax-free import of kits marked the year. Eight companies assemble kits: Fiat Auto Poland, Daewoo-FSO, GM Poland, Volkswagen, Ford Polska, Kia Motors Polska, Damis (Yugo) and Hyundai/Zasada. Each needed to assemble 1,000 cars in 1997 in order to have its license re-confirmed for 1998.
Authorities challenged Hyundai, which accused Daewoo of undermining Hyundai's efforts to meet the rules. In the end, the out-going government signed a license.
All the major players predict a slowdown in sales in 1998, but production is expected to rise as Opel's new factory opens in September.
Wladek A. Skorko
LISBON - New-car registrations fell 2 percent to 213,000 in 1997.
However, used-car imports rose by about 67 percent to 50,000 units, so the total Portuguese car market may have grown by as much as 7 percent.
The government plans to end tax discounts on imported used cars. Taxes on an eight-year-old car are only a third as much as on a new vehicle. More than 40 percent of imported used cars last year were at least eight years old.
Many consumers buy new cars abroad - particularly in Germany and Belgium - since registration taxes based on engine capacity can add 50 percent to the basic price.
The government is expected to replace the current tax system in 1999.
BRATISLAVA - Slovakian car sales fell 16.9 percent to 62,080 units in 1997. The government began collecting a 7 percent import tax at the end of July.
The Skoda Felicia was the best-selling model, at 23,290 units, followed by the Skoda Octavia (4,152), Daewoo Nexia (3,351) and Daewoo Espero (2,951).
Skoda's sales of 27,442 units gave it market leadership at 43 percent, up from a 29 percent share in 1996. No. 2 Daewoo's sales were 8,736, down 25 percent.
Ford sold only 983 cars in 1997, well behind other importers like Fiat (3,113) and Opel (2,645). Customers say pricing is to blame. The Ford Ka costs 38 percent more in Slovakia than in neighboring Czech Republic, where Ford is the No. 1 imported brand.
Although their numbers are small, four brands in addition to Skoda improved their market share: Peugeot, Audi, Mercedes and Volvo.
Volkswagen's plant in Bratislava last year assembled 40,885 units of the new and old Golf and the Passat. This year VW plans to make at least 70,000 Golfs.
STOCKHOLM - The Swedish new-car market recovered in 1997. The 25.5 percent rise in registrations to 225,003 units followed an economic recovery in the country.
Swedish sales fell to a low of 124,000 in 1994.
Volvo had the three best-selling models: the 850, 900 and S40/V40. The 850 took 11.5 percent of the market.
The best-selling import was the Ford Escort, with a 4 percent share.
Volkswagen was the No. 2 brand (10.4 percent) followed by Ford (10.0) and Saab (7.4).