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BMW ousts Audi from top Euro sales position

Premium models are maintaining pressure on volume brands, says JATO in its Western Europe passenger car market report for May 2005. May saw the western Europe new car market return to growth, with registrations up 3.4% on the same month in 2004, to 1,264,328 units.

Year-to-date (YTD) registrations are still 0.75% down on 2004, however, after a slow first quarter and static sales in April.

The lower-medium segment, which accounts for a quarter of all European new car sales, again drove expansion. Sales at the premium end of this segment performed particularly strongly: up by 41.6%. SUV, upper-medium car and sports car sales also continued to grow, mainly at the expense of MPVs, which were 17% down year-on-year.

Denmark, Finland and Portugal registered significantly increased May 04 versus May 05 sales, with rises of 15.1%, 13.7% and 11.4% respectively.

The Big Five markets (UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain) also posted a healthy combined year-on-year rise of 3.5%, with YTD sales only 0.4% down on 2004. Spain, Germany and France were significantly higher than in May 2004. Italy and the UK were down YTD but May registrations were higher than April.

BMW displaced Audi in the list of the top 10 European brands in May, posting a 26.4% increase in registrations, sales having been helped by demand for the 1-series and the new 3-series. Renault retained its place at the top of the table, although with reduced margin, while Opel/Vauxhall came within a few hundred units of overtaking VW. Outside the top 10, Kia (up 65.4%), Lancia (up 24.4%) and Mini (up 20.2%) all enjoyed good results in May.

The sales performance of Opel/Vauxhall's Astra continued to dominate the model ranking in May. Its year-on-year sales growth slackened slightly to 36.8%. But YTD registrations were up by almost 80,000 units – or 60.3%.

Sales of first-placed Golf were down 5.5% YTD, although it fought back with a 7% increase on May 2004. Ford's Focus also gained ground in May, while the remainder of the top 10 all fell back, with Renault's Clio dropping out to be replaced by the rejuvenated BMW 3-series.

The lower-medium segment rose by nearly 15% in May. The segment's share of total market sales YTD was 2.5% higher than in May 2004 – gained primarily at the expense of the small and MPV segments. Astra and Focus continued to drive growth at the volume end of the segment, while the now-established 1-series and Audi A3 (up 25.1%) contributed to a 41.6% increase in volume for premium models.

SUVs were the second-fastest growing segment in May, with sales rising 11.5% and the segment's share of the total YTD market rising three quarters of a percentage point to 6.4%. Toyota's RAV 4 headed the sector followed by BMW X3 (up 115% YTD) and Hyundai's new Tucson, whose YTD sales already exceed those of many established models.

Ranking third in May 04 versus May 05 growth, the executive segment recorded a 6.2% increase in registrations, leaving it down 1.7% YTD. Audi's new A6 (up 38.2%) sold strongly to take third place after the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5-series (up 4.1%).

The upper-medium segment also strengthened in May – up 2.2% although still 3.9% down YTD.

Volume model sales rose 5.6% in May and 1.7% YTD but premium models were down 2.6% and 12% respectively. Volkswagen's new Passat (up 11.8%) reclaimed the top spot at the volume end, leading the Peugeot 407. BMW 3-series (up 3.2%) was the premium top-seller, ahead of Audi A4 (up 12.0%), Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Saab 9-3.

Mini segment registrations were down 8.1% YTD, but sales in May were more encouraging – only 1% down on a year before. Fiat's Panda (up 5.5%) maintained its lead from the smart fortwo, slightly revised Ford Ka, Kia Picanto and Renault Twingo.

Buyers of mini-MPVs are being tempted by taller, more spacious lower-medium models, such as Seat Altea and Volkswagen Golf Plus. The segment fell 2.08% in May and 1.36% YTD. Renault's Scénic/Grand Scénic held its lead over VW's Touran and the Zafira, Xsara Picasso and Focus C-Max.

The small segment fell 2.5% in May, and 6.0% in the first five months of 2005 compared to the same periods in 2004, with the Peugeot 206 continuing to lead the segment from the Fiesta (up 0.5% YTD). Models doing well in May included Meriva (up 1.9%); Yaris (up 3.3%) and Micra (up 5.8%).

Recent strong sales kept the Sports segment 2.0% ahead of last year on YTD volume despite a 4.5% drop in May. Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class (up 10.0%) led the segment from the CLK-Class, new Opel/Vauxhall Tigra and Alfa-Romeo GT.

Luxury sales again suffered, dipping 6.4% in May, with a YTD decline of 19%. BMW 7-series (up 3.8%) led the segment from the Audi A8, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Volkswagen Phaeton (up 25.2% YTD).

The full-size MPV segment continued to decline - down 17.1% in May and 18.7% YTD. Renault's Espace/Grand Espace held top spot from the Ford Galaxy (up 2.1% on higher sales in France and the UK). Wider availability helped Mitsubishi Grandis sales rise 67.9% YTD.

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