The Volkswagen Golf has held its position at the top of western Europe's annual sales chart in spite of a fierce challenge from General Motors' Opel/Vauxhall Astra.
Twelve-month estimates put the Golf fewer than 15,000 units in front of the Astra.
'It is clear the Golf is ahead, but it has been the closest battle of recent years,' said GM Europe spokesman Stefan Weinmann. 'The Astra has performed exceptionally well, particularly in central Europe.'
Astra sales climbed 24.5 percent year-on-year to 695,600 units. Golf sales grew more modestly. The Volkswagen was up 5.7 percent on 1998 figures, to 710,500 units.
'Were we ever worried? Absolutely not,' said VW spokesman Hans Bode. 'In the main European markets the Golf has always been very much in front.'
Elsewhere, there was notable success for the Renault Clio. Its annual sales grew 17.2 percent to 490,750 units. But there was not such good news for the Renault Megane range, which declined 6.3 percent to 543,200 units. The fall was partly due to new entries in the compact minivan segment, which have dented sales of the Megane Scenic version.
The Ford Focus, Europe's Car of the Year in 1998, entered at No. 5 with 465,900 sales. The new Peugeot 206 ranked No. 8, with 431,000 sales.
The VW Passat edged out the GM Vectra to become the only upper-medium model in the top 10 chart.
The Fiat Punto slipped from third position in 1998 to seventh place last year. But 1999 was a model changeover year for the Punto, and Fiat will be hoping for an improved performance for its top-seller in 2000. The Punto was Europe's best-selling car in 1997.