The new car market in the eastern and central European bloc of countries - Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia - was up 3.5% year to date to the end of the third quarter of 2004 to 732,012 units despite a sharp fall of 8.72% in the third quarter, compared with 2003.

Data compiled by Jato Dynamics showed that Poland's downturn in Q3 was 24.32%, leaving its market static.

Skoda was the leading brand, with a 15.48% share YTD, ahead of Renault, Fiat, Opel and Toyota. Skoda also has the two best-selling cars - the Fabia and Octavia - these are followed by the Dacia Solenza, Daewoo Matiz and Opel Astra.

Renault's new dedicated emerging-market contender, the Dacia Logan, was only introduced in Romania during Q3 but, with over 4,600 units sold, immediately showed it will present a serious challenge to the high-volume 'establishment'.

Despite its volatile car market and an uncertain economy, Poland is still comfortably the region's largest market, with over 255,000 new cars registered by the end of September, compared with around 150,000 in Hungary and 105,000 in Czech Republic, both down compared with 2003.

The researchers noted a "worrying" trend in Poland, which has increased since the country joined the European Union in May, of consumers rejecting new cars in favour if import used vehicles from Western Europe.

On a brighter note, all other countries increased their volumes significantly YTD, which might have been expected of small markets like the Baltic States but also included an impressive growth of 31.82% for Romania, to more than 98,000.

Superminis (e.g. Opel Corsa) accounted for a 40.62% share YTD, followed by the lower-medium category (25.4%).

The mini segment fell 4.81% in Q3 was up 18.51% YTD. Daewoo's Matiz led the segment, up 11.8% YTD, and up 10.3% in the weak Q3. The Fiat Panda was next, followed by the Suzuki Wagon R+.

Though still the largest segment, superminis fell 4.21% YTD and 18.32% in Q3 alone. The Peugeot 206 and Renault Thalia/Symbol trailed the Skoda Fabia, and the Suzuki Ignis, now built in Hungary, began to catch the leaders with a 121.3% increase YTD. Outperforming even the Ignis in growth terms, however, was Honda's just-updated Jazz (+144.4% YTD) and the Opel Meriva minivan (+133.9% YTD) which, along with the Ford Fusion (+85.5% YTD) reflects the increasing trend of car makers to offer more sophisticated multi-purpose models at this level.

In contrast to western European, the lower-medium segment is thriving in Eastern and Central Europe where increased wealth is seeing buyers move up a size or two from cheaper, smaller cars. As a result the category grew 7.78% YTD over the same period last year. Dacia was strong in this segment, where its Solenza both led and grew by 70.4% YTD and its 1310 model was ninth.

The real success story, however, was the Dacia Logan, whose 4,641 registrations following its introduction made it sixth in Q3, just a few units behind the Ford Focus. The Renault Mégane and Opel Astra trailed the Solenza for the lead while, further back, another Suzuki offering, the Liana, showed sharp growth, up 129.3% YTD.

Behind the run-out Focus, the recently redesigned VW Golf increased sales by an impressive 34.2% YTD compared with Jan-Sept 2003, again indicating a growing central European appetite for more upmarket products. This was borne out by the premium lower-medium segment, which rose 8.72% YTD. The leading Audi A3 was up 41.4% YTD, and its 2004 volumes put it close to popular models like the Hyundai Accent.

Mirroring Western Europe, the mini/midi-MPV (minivan) class was the fastest-growing market segment, up 45.0% YTD on the same period last year. The Renault Scénic/Grand Scénic was up 58.8% YTD and led VW's Touran and Citroën's Xsara Picasso. Toyota's newly redesigned, Turkish-built Corolla Verso, in fifth place, increased volume 157% YTD. Full-size MPVs, led by the Renault Espace, sell in low volumes in the region and volume was static.

Skoda's new Octavia was runaway leader in the upper-medium category, which was fractionally up compared with last year. Skoda sold around three-and-a-half times more Octavias than Toyota managed with its Avensis, despite the latter's impressive YTD increase of 47.3%. The Ford Mondeo, up 18.7% YTD, was just behind. Skoda also predictably led the premium upper-medium segment with the Superb. The category was up 6.21% YTD, thanks largely to the Honda Accord posted a 55.2% rise and is pushing the Superb for the top spot.

Executive cars also increased sales by 6.52%. Audi's outgoing A6 led the Mercedes-Benz E-class, but by far the biggest growth was by the redesigned BMW 5-series, up 79.1% in third place. The high-luxury segment declined 19.17% YTD, with the Audi A8, BMW 7-series and Mercedes S-Class in the top three positions all down.

Again reflecting Western Europe, SUVs grew strongly (+16.15% YTD) but that growth slowed in Q3. The segment was led comfortably by the Toyota RAV-4, up 34.3% YTD, from the Honda CR-V and the Toyota Land Cruiser. Behind them the Suzuki Vitara/Grand Vitara, VW Touareg and Kia Sorento all grew volume.

The sports segment also grew strongly but will account for only a very small 2004 volume of around 2,500 units, despite a YTD increase of 65.8%. This was by the Mazda RX-8 and Mercedes SLK, the top two models.