Passenger cars sales in Belgium rose by
6.7% in December to 20,839 from 19,531, which took the full year gain to 14.1% at 452,129
from 396,240. For both the month and the year the results were the best for six years. We
would love to say how accurate our 1998 forecast had been, but this is one market that we
did get wrong, and the market is very difficult to read with regard to prospects for 1999.
GDP is expected to fall in Belgium during 1999 and industrial production is already being
hit by falling exports to the Far East in particular. As the market stands today the 1999
total could stay quite high, maybe only settling back by a few thousand to 450,000, but
there is a nagging suspicion that once the market starts to fall it will be quite a steep
decline and so for the moment we will stick with 435,000 in 1999 and 420,000 in 2000.
GM Opel were very notable losers in a field
full of winners in 1998, but towards the end of the year they were showing strong signs of
a comeback. The Astra is a much better car than its sales in 1998 would suggest, but that
fact has now sunk in and that model is beginning to lead the GM Group out of the current
doldrums. With the Zafira and Astra Coupé due this year, plus facelifts for the Vectra
and Omega, GM Opel can look forward to a much better year in 1999. For years now Opel has
been the top selling marque in Europe, but it seems fairly certain that they were
overtaken by Volkswagen in 1998, and there is an outside chance that the official figures
– when available – could even show that Renault outsold them. So a return to the
growth trail will be as much essential as welcome.
The only other losers were Proton of
Malaysia and Lancia, who won’t complain too much as they were busy mopping up extra
sales in other European countries. The biggest individual winner was Renault, with
Citroën and Peugeot not too far behind to make it a French hat trick. Renault had a great
time in 1998 thanks to burgeoning sales of the Mégane Scenic and Clio in particular.
Peugeot charged to the finish line on the back of the new 206, and that little car is set
to be a monster hit in 1999. Citroën made their mark with the Xsara, increasing overall
sales in Belgium by 22.3% to 32,562 from 26,626. We are due to road test the Xsara next
month in order to see what all the fuss is about, but we have to say that of the French
trio, Citroën look to have the hardest job on their hands to maintain the momentum in