Sales in France raced to a 10-year high last month. Domestic carmakers took nearly 60 percent of the market.
Registrations rose 32.4 percent compared with May 1999, to 196,550.
French sales - also boosted by two extra working days - helped the western European market reach 1.4 million units last month, 10.4 percent ahead of May 1999 figures.
'Attractive new models such as compact minivans and a favorable economy explains this excellent month,' said Jean-Pierre Mercier, spokesman for CCFA, the French automakers' association.
Ascension Day and Whit Monday holidays both fell in June this year. They were in May last year. Many car sales outlets close during these holidays.
For the first five months, registrations in western European are still 2.7 percent ahead of the year-ago period, at 6.9 million units.
The boom in France is benefiting local carmakers, whose market share has climbed to 59.4 percent from 56.7 percent in May 1999.
Citroen sales surged by 56 percent, thanks to the success of the Xsara Picasso compact minivan that had 3.3 percent of the market.
Peugeot won a 32 percent share thanks to the 206, the third best-selling car in France with a 7.3 percent share.
As far as western Europe is concerned, PSA/Peugeot Citroen grabbed 12.6 percent of the market in May. Renault had 11.0 percent.
Renault's Megane and Clio are No.1 and No.2 in France, with 11 percent and 8.8 percent shares respectively. The Scenic compact minivan now accounts for two-thirds of Megane sales.
The success of the Yaris supermini helped Toyota become the No.5 importer in France, behind Opel, Volkswagen, Ford and Fiat. Toyota's January-May sales climbed 38.4 percent over the first five months of 1999, to 18,871 units.
Fiat's Punto is the best selling foreign car in France.
By contrast, the German market continued to suffer. With 1.5 million registrations during January-May, Germany is 9.3 percent down on the same period last year.
ACEA said the decrease in Germany was due to three main factors:
Comparison with high levels in 1999
Shift in demand from the new- to used-car market. Some 1.5 million used cars are currently on the German market, with 1 million being the norm
Lack of new models.
The results have forced Germany's national automobile industry association to revise its domestic sales estimate for the year.
'It is now almost impossible to reach the earlier forecast of 3.7 million,' said the association's president, Bernd Gottschalk. The association had expected the German market to decline by about 3 percent from last year's figure of 3.8 million.
Italy was up 2.7 percent in May, to 223,500 units. It is 6.3 percent ahead over the five-month period.
Of the Italian carmakers, Lancia is enjoying the most success in Europe. Its sales increased 30.3 percent during January-May, to 90,780 units.
The UK market climbed 10.4 percent in May, to 194,100 units. Spain was 3.5 percent ahead, at 127,890 units. Over five months, the two countries are up by 2.8 percent and 7.1 percent respectively.
The Volkswagen group clawed back some lost sales in May. It was 8.7 percent up on the same month last year, at 264,165 units. But it is still 1.6 percent down over the five-month period. The VW brand declined 7.5 percent, to 1.3 million units, during January-May.
ACEA May registration tables, see Page 54