The Fiat Punto is once again western Europe's most popular supermini - but the VW Golf is still the region's overall best seller. The Golf retained its lead despite a sales decline of more than 7 percent, according to the latest January-March 2000 sales estimates.
Fiat launched its revamped Punto last September. First-quarter sales of the new car were 11 percent ahead of the previous model in the same period last year.
The Punto topped Europe's annual sales chart in 1997 when the slow changeover to the fourth-generation series depressed Golf sales. At that time, the Punto's fortunes were also improved by scrappage-linked sales incentives in Italy.
But the Punto will have to overtake the Golf, as well as the Renault Megane, if it is to be crowned this year's overall No. 1.
Elsewhere, the Renault Scenic is beginning to feel the pressure of new entrants into the compact minivan market. The Scenic's sales growth slowed to 2.2 percent in the first three months as the GM Zafira and Citroen Xsara Picasso mounted aggressive challenges.
In trends carried forward from last year, sales of niche vehicles such as sport-utilities continued to rise - but the core upper-medium and lower-medium segments stayed depressed.
Following is a segment-by-segment rundown of first-quarter 2000 sales patterns in western Europe:
Freelander sales surged ahead by 6.5 percent. The small Land Rover sits comfortably at the top of the sport-utility chart, nearly 6,000 units ahead of its nearest rival, the Suzuki Vitara/Grand Vitara. The Freelander's Discovery stablemate also performed well, with sales up 21.9 percent. Jeep Cherokee/Grand Cherokee and Mercedes-Benz M-class sales leapt by 54.3 percent and 61.6 percent respectively. Honda now has two entries in the SUV chart: the CR-V and the HR-V. The Mitsubishi Shogun/Pajero/Montero fell out of the top 10 -although a new model is being introduced at the moment.
The lower-medium segment was surprisingly weak in the first quarter. Only the Renault Megane and the Ford Focus put on sales. Fiat's Bravo/Brava fell 17.8 percent and the GM Astra declined 18.9 percent. There was even a setback for the all-conquering Golf, although the VW remains the clear leader across Europe.
Despite strong displays from the MCC Smart and Daewoo Matiz, the mini segment was also fragile. Smart sales surged by 87 percent, while the Matiz outsold the VW Lupo to claim the No. 6 spot. But segment leader, the Renault Twingo, saw its sales fall by 10.5 percent. Seat's Arosa and Fiat's Seicento and Panda also suffered double-digit declines.
The Fiat Punto led the supermini pack, with January-March sales of more than 158,000. But the Peugeot 206 wasn't far behind. The French car's sales raced ahead by 27.4 percent to 144,749. But the real supermini success story was the Toyota Yaris and its multipurpose Verso sibling, which together outsold the Seat Ibiza and Nissan Micra.
There were encouraging performances from the Peugeot 406, Nissan Primera, Audi A3 and Skoda Octavia. Indeed, the 406 displaced the Ford Mondeo as the third best-selling upper-medium car in Europe. But sales of top models, the VW Passat and GM Vectra, continued to deteriorate. The segment was down 11.4 percent.
GM's revised Omega single-handedly rescued the full-size segment. The Opel/Vauxhall model increased by 14 percent while sales of its rivals plummeted.
Three series sales dropped by 5.5 percent but the BMW stayed the lower-luxury leader. Audi's face-lifted A4 put on 6.9 percent to claim a solid second place. Strong showings from the Rover 75, Lancia Lybra and Lexus IS200 helped the segment grow by 1.7 percent.
Cars from Sweden and England are beginning to challenge the German marques' traditional dominance in this segment. The Volvo S70/V70, Saab 9-5 and Jaguar S-type all put on sales - but their Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi rivals remained comfortably in front. The Mercedes-Benz E-class was No.1, nearly 10,000 units ahead of the BMW 5 series.
With the exception of Lamborghini, it was good news for all the super-luxury models. Maserati almost doubled its sales and Aston Martin climbed over 62 percent.
Sales slowed significantly for the Mercedes-Benz SLK, Ford Cougar and BMW Z3. But the new BMW 3 series Coupe rocketed by more than 330 percent. The Mercedes-Benz CLK stayed at No. 1 with an 11.5 percent increase. The Mazda MX-5 dropped out of the top 10.
Minivan (full-size & compact)
Growth in the minivan segments continued to shift from full-size to compact versions. Sales of full-size minivans fell 5.2 percent, but compact minivans grew by 79.9 percent. The seven-seat GM Zafira is mounting a major challenge against the car that defined the compact minivan segment, the five-seat Renault Scenic. The Citroen Xsara Picasso claimed the No.3 position.
April car sales in Europe, Page 22