Provisional figures released by Acea suggest that car sales in Europe rose by 3.6% in January to a new record of 1,300,504, from 1,255,456 last year. That was despite the fact that nine of the countries currently under review displayed results that were negative against last year. Although still to be confirmed, it would seem that full-year 1999 sales were a record 15.1 million, and very few expect that performance to be repeated in 2000. For our part we believe the market will fall to around 14.2 million in the current year, and will slip further to 13.9 million in 2001.

There were some spectacular results in January. Italy saw 267,200 cars sold – the second highest ever for the month – and that amounted to a rise of 18.4% from the 225,640 of last year. Partly that was due to the freer availability of the new Fiat Punto, but a powerful surge in January is not unusual in Italy, and there have been previous occasions when January in Italy has meant more car sales than January in Germany. If circumstances are right, many Italian workers receive an extra month’s salary at the end of the year. With Fiat Group employees also enjoying attractive discounts if they buy company products, it could be part of the explanation as to how Alfa Romeo sales in January jumped by 20.7% in Italy, Fiat sales leapt by 41.4% and Lancia sales rocketed by 58.7%, compared with the market average of 18.4%. No-one can give a proper explanation of what is happening in Eire. If the sales figures are confirmed, they will show that 41,992 cars were sold there in January, a 56% boom from the 26,921 of last year. Just to put that figure into context, there were years in the Irish Republic – and not that long ago either – when full-year sales were under 60,000. One thing is for certain, a high proportion of the cars being sold in Eire are being driven straight across the border and into the UK. What isn’t clear is whether they are then being reregistered, thus creating double counting. We believe that the problems of double counting in Europe are growing by the month as internet buying allows punters to shop all over Europe for their bargain buys. Germany took a rest in January, sales sinking by 14.0% to 235,000 from 273,341 (although ACEA figures frequently underestimate German results) and that was part of the reason why Volkswagen did relatively badly in January, especially in comparison with GM Opel. 31,000 cars is quite a big number, and that is the measure of the swing between the two competitors in January. Whilst Volkswagen sales shrank by 15.9% to 136,300 from 162,129, GM Opel enjoyed a modest gain with sales rising by 3.9% to 138,650 from 133,402. Renault also had a bad month, as did Volvo and Mazda, but Toyota were firmly boosted by the Yaris and the Lexus IS200.

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