Figures released by the European carmakers' association ACEA show that the Japanese carmakers' share of the West European passenger car market surged to 13.1% in the month of October - a figure which compares to 11% in October last year. The Japanese makers' combined sales increased to 154,136 units in October, a whopping 18.5% gain on the same month last year (in a flat overall market), prompting worries that European makers could face Detroit-style market share decline in Europe.

In the first ten months of the year the Japanese carmakers managed to sell 1.55 million cars in Western Europe, an increase of 9% on last year and a market share of 12.7% (against 11.5% in the same period of 2002).

The ACEA figures also show that in stark contrast to the Japanese makers' 18.5% collective unit sales rise in October, there were drops for Volkswagen Group (-5%), PSA (-6.6%), Ford Group (-5.2%), GM (-1%) and Fiat Group (-2.6%). Toyota and Lexus posted a combined gain of 14.9% in October, while Nissan managed a 40% increase over last year.

Analysts note that the Japanese makers' gains in Europe this year have been underpinned by a number of positive factors.

Colin Couchman, an analyst at Global Insight, told just-auto: "This year has seen the coming together of a number of factors that have been helpful to the Japanese makers in Europe. For one thing, model cycles have been favourable with Toyota, for example, getting a boost from the new Avensis and Nissan benefiting from its new Micra.

"But it's not simply the fact that these manufacturers have new product - the products are also better targeted at European consumers with more 'European oriented' designs and better availability of diesel engines. In addition, currency developments have helped the Japanese this year, with the strong euro versus the yen enabling them to compete aggressively on price and vehicle specification."

The ACEA figures also showed that total Western Europe new passenger car registrations for October reached 1.18 million units, a decrease of 0.3 % (-0.2% in the EU-15) over the same month last year. ACEA said in a statement that the 'basically flat result seems to point towards a stabilisation of the market, in line with most economic indicators'.

In the first ten months of 2003, passenger car sales in Western Europe reached 12.19 million units - a decline of 1.3% over the same period of last year. Most industry forecasters believe that better economic conditions and more favourable model cycles will help the European car market to stage a modest recovery in 2004. However, concerns over profitability in Europe are likely to persist.

National figures show increases in seven out of fifteen countries during October, ranging from +5.4 % in Luxembourg to +33.9 % in Finland. Spain (+8.2 %) was the best performer among the five bigger markets. Decreases ranged from -0.3 % in Italy to -11.6 % in the Netherlands and Denmark.