The upper-medium and full-size segments were hit hardest by the popularity of new niche models in Europe last year.
As categories started to splinter, sales of core upper-medium cars such as the VW Passat, GM Vectra and Ford Mondeo fell away sharply. Buyers began switching their allegiances from traditional models to alternative vehicles such as minivans and sport-utilities. And there was ever-diminishing interest in full-size cars such as the GM Omega and Renault Safrane.
The success stories were here, there and everywhere. The Mercedes-Benz M-class shook up the sport-utility segment. The Mercedes-Benz A-class and the MCC Smart had a big impact on Europe's small car segments. And the VW New Beetle and Audi TT were the star performers in the coupe/roadster and specialty sector.
But the compact minivan remained western Europe's hottest model segment last year, despite a slight decline in sales of the all-conquering Renault Scenic.
Following is a segment-by-segment rundown of full-year 1999 sales trends in western Europe:
The Land Rover Freelander was the top-selling sport-utility last year. It was almost 14,000 units ahead of its nearest rival, the Suzuki Vitara/Grand Vitara. The revamped GM Frontera staged a notable comeback to claim third position, with sales up 65.9 percent on 1998 levels. But the star of the segment was a premium-priced model: the Mercedes-Benz M-class. Its sales climbed 113.2 percent, to 24,298 units. The Land Rover Discovery tumbled out of the top 10.
The VW Golf maintained its slender lead over the GM Astra. The Golf was once again 1999's most popular lower-medium model, and the No. 1 seller across all segments in western Europe. However, GM is claiming Astra outsold Golf in the combined territories of western and central Europe last year. What's certain is that the rivalry between these two models won't diminish in 2000.
The VW Lupo, Daewoo Matiz and MCC Smart made significant gains in the mini segment. Despite a slight slip in sales, the Renault Twingo claimed the top spot. The aging Fiat Panda was fourth. Lancia Ypsilon sales dipped 21.2 percent to 103,122 units.
The supermini segment grew just 0.4 percent last year. The Renault Clio and Peugeot 206 were the only real success stories. The GM Corsa forced the Fiat Punto into third position, despite sales declines for both cars.
However, Punto sales should begin to accelerate now that a new model is on sale. Toyota's Yaris was just outside the top 10 with sales of 111,102.
The upper-medium segment plummeted almost 10 percent. The top three models - the VW Passat, GM Vectra and Ford Mondeo - all suffered sales setbacks.
The Skoda Octavia grew 53.3 percent to 100,114 units.
There were less dramatic increases for the Peugeot 406 and Renault Laguna.
With the exception of the Hyundai Sonata, there were sales slumps for every full-size model last year. It will be interesting to see if GM's recently revised Omega can rescue a segment that appears in terminal decline.
The BMW 3 series was the top performer, with sales up 23.2 percent to 283,615 units. The Audi A4, at No.2, was more than 88,000 units behind its German rival. New lower-luxury contenders, the Rover 75 and Lexus IS200, were not on sale long enough to make a serious impact last year.
The medium-luxury spotlight shifted away from Germany to Sweden and Italy. Segment leaders, the Mercedes-Benz E-class and BMW 5 series, declined by 6.3 percent and 10.6 percent respectively.
By contrast, sales of the Volvo S80 and the Alfa Romeo 166 climbed rapidly.
The Mercedes-Benz S-class single-handedly rescued the upper-luxury segment. While its rivals' sales declined, the S-class leapt 164 percent to 33,582 units.
Maserati was up more than 200 percent to 1,033 units. Aston Martin also registered a small increase. Ferrari, Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce/Bentley all fell.
The success of the VW New Beetle, Audi TT and Ford Cougar helped the coupe/roadsters and specialty segment expand by almost 10 percent to 408,189 units. The Mercedes-Benz CLK grabbed the No. 1 spot. Its sales increased 39.3 percent to 57,795 units.
Minivan (full size and compact)
Growth in the minivan segment shifted from full-size models to compact versions.
The sales growth of full-size minivans slowed to 1.4 percent, but compact minivans grew more than 54 percent.
Despite a 7 percent fall in sales, the Scenic is still the dominant model in the compact minivan sector. The GM Zafira made a quick impact to claim second position with 96,121 sales.