DETROIT - Despite sharp downturns in Asia and Latin America and a stagnant market in the USA, combined sales of the world's 40 biggest automakers and truckmakers rose 4 percent to 54.1 million units last year.
Europe made the difference. European sales rose 4.8 percent in 1997.
According to a tally of sales by the world's 40 largest automakers, 11 companies improved their position from 1996, sending 11 others down the chart.
Companies with significant European sales typically outperformed other companies on the list. Carmakers heavily tied to Japan, which was down 5 percent last year, or the USA or Southeast Asia suffered.
No. 6 Chrysler, which derived about 80.5 percent of its global sales from the USA in 1997, was down 3.5 percent worldwide to 2,864,329 units. It was bumped from the No. 5 spot by Fiat Auto.
No. 5 Fiat Auto sells more than 55 percent of its vehicles in Europe. Fiat was up 14.6 percent for the year, thanks to government scrapping incentives in Italy. In the process, it passed Chrysler and Nissan.
No. 8 PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, the French carmaker with 75 percent of its sales in Europe, rose 5 percent worldwide to knock Honda down one notch, to No. 9 on the list.
Europe helped non-European makers.
No. 3 Toyota, for example, derived 41.5 percent of its worldwide sales from Japan, where it was off 6 percent for the year. But gains in Europe and North America were enough to help Toyota to a 1.8 percent gain worldwide.
Volkswagen, which aims at outselling Toyota in five years, rose 7.3 percent. VW gets 55 percent of its sales in Europe, where it was up 4.8 percent last year.
The sales chart was compiled by the Automotive News Data Center from staff reports and analysts' estimates.