SPORTS CAR and 4x4 segments continue to outperform the market in the first half, as they did last year.
The lower-luxury segment also outperformed the market. And when added together, the three luxury car segments, sports cars and 4x4s increased their market share from 15.5 percent in the first half of 1997 to 16.2 percent for the first half of 1998.
'Luxury sales have grown steadily since the downturn in 1993,' said Steve Haggerty, an analyst with Wertheim Schroeder & Co. in London. 'People with money are interested in buying brand and the distribution experience that goes with those brands,' he said.
The lower-medium segment, Europe's perennial leader, outperformed the market in the first half. For the 12 months of 1998, it underperformed. Volkswagen finally has its Golf sales up to year-earlier levels, and the Megane Scenic has carried Renault to unaccustomed leadership.
When the Scenic has more competitors than it now has, it will probably migrate from our lower-medium segment into a new one. The Fiat Multipla, GM Zafira, Ford Focus and others are planning to combat the Scenic, which sold 109,717 units in the first half.
The full-size car segment is withering away at the same time that the compact minivan segment is developing. Full-size car sales declined 11.5 percent in the half, to 74,727 units.
Overall sales were up 8.2 percent in the first half, according to figures from JATO Dynamics.
The Seat Arosa has firmly installed itself in the middle of the mini segment. With sales of about 6,000 a month, it is well behind the Fiat Panda and Cinquecento, and well ahead of the Suzuki Alto.
The Renault Twingo, which created the segment in many ways, lost sales in the half as it nears the end of its current version. A facelift with interior and safety improvements was introduced in July.
The Peugeot 106 continues strong at the top of the segment, outperforming the market with a 10.9 percent increase in sales.
Sales of the new Renault Clio were the one bright spot in the supermini segment, which seems to be losing customers to both smaller and larger cars. The No. 1 Fiat Punto and No. 3 VW Polo lost sales while the No. 2 GM Corsa and No. 4 Ford Fiesta gained less than the overall market.
Lancia's Ypsilon grew by 30.7 percent.
The Scenic carried the Renault Megane to the No. 1 position ahead of the VW Golf for the first half. Volkswagen has more capacity than Renault, but Louis Schweitzer is not conceding the championship. Last year's No. 1, the Fiat Punto supermini, is the No. 3 car in Europe.
GM's Astra is down 16.5 percent in the first half, thanks to a model changeover. Citroen's Xsara is selling very well, up 62.9 percent over the ZX it replaced. The Peugeot 306 is also contributing to a robust 14.8 percent growth in segment sales.
Volkswagen's Passat is the runaway success, surpassing the Ford Mondeo to end the half at No. 2 behind the GM Vectra. Passat sales are up 45.7 percent over last year in a segment that grew 5.4 percent.
Sales of the Toyota Avensis are up 37.1 percent over the Carina it replaced.
Despite sales gains by the leading GM Omega, the segment is dying. Fiat sold as many Pandas (74,655) as all the makers put together in the full-size category (74,727).
The life of the segment is just below the three perennial leaders of the Audi A4, BMW 3 series and Mercedes E-class. Volvo S40/V40 sales are up 29.9 percent, and the Alfa Romeo 156 is up more than 46,000 units over the 155 last year.
The top of the order remains the Mercedes E-class and BMW 5 series. However, the Mercedes lost sales and the Audi A6 has gained 86.7 percent, climbing to third place ahead of the Volvo S70/V70.
The Mercedes S-class fell from No. 2 to No. 4 as the tired, heavy platform nears the end of its life cycle. It will be replaced this fall. BMW's 7 series continues to lead the segment, but sales are falling.
Competitors are profiting.
The Jaguar XJ series is up 48.4 percent over last year. The Audi A8 is also in demand, with sales up 12.9 percent.
Although their numbers remain small, the Lexus LS400, Cadillac and Jaguar Daimlers all found new customers.
Mercedes-Benz is No. 1 and No. 3 in the volatile fashion segment.
The SLK is outselling the much cheaper Ford Puma, and the CLK is ahead of last year's leader, the much cheaper GM Tigra.
'How do you explain the CLK and SLK to such an extent?' said Ian Henry, director of AutoAnalysis Ltd., a UK strategy consulting company. 'People are prepared to pay for something different.'
Renault regained leadership in the segment by adding a stretched Grand Espace to the Espace. Ford's Galaxy also climbed with a significant 49.2 percent increase in sales, while last years leader, the VW Sharan, dropped 12.5 percent. The Sharan and Galaxy are twins, made in a joint venture factory.
The off-road segment rose faster than any other in the half, up 24.4 percent, as new Europe-sized products like the Honda CR-V and Land Rover Freelander took hold. The Suzuki Vitara continues its No. 1 position, holding on by 65 units over the Honda CR-V.