Although passenger car registrations were down 0.48% in April on the same month in 2003, year-to-date the market is up 1.81% on the same period last year, offering further positive signs of recovery, according to automotive data provider JATO.

After a relatively slow start, the new VW Golf was Western Europe’s highest-selling model in April for the second successive month, followed by the Peugeot 206 and 307, Renault Clio and Ford Focus. The Golf and 206 swap places in the order YTD, with the Focus, Clio and 307 next up.

Sales of mini/midi MPVs are continuing their phenomenal growth and leading the upsurge in non-traditional model segments, up 29.39% year-on-year in April and 32.61% YTD. SUVs were up 6.53% in April for a 14.34% increase YTD, and sports cars up 9.84% and 24.29% respectively.

The mini segment was down fractionally in April for a similar YTD performance. The situation would be far more serious were it not for the Fiat Panda, which leads the segment and is up 132% YTD. GM Daewoo’s Matiz indicates the company’s recovery, with April registrations up 26.8%. April supermini registrations were down 1.71% but the segment is up 1.83% YTD, led by the 206, Clio and Opel/Vauxhall Corsa.

For the second month running the lower-medium and upper-medium segments have shown some resistance to the sustained decline of the past year. Although the lower-medium category is down 3.98% YTD that compares with -5.69% and -9.0% for the previous two months. Strong sales of Golf (up 13% in April), 307 and Focus have contributed. Similarly, the upper-medium segment is now down 4.69% YTD but that has to be seen against a full-year 2003 figure of -10.3%. The VW Passat leads the category, but the Opel/Vauxhall Vectra performed strongly in April with a 15.2% increase.

The premium lower-medium segment continues to grow, up 7.61% YTD, but is still largely dependent on the Audi A3, while the premium upper-medium category dropped again in April and is 8.76% down YTD.

Executive cars fell by 2.03% in April but are still up YTD, by 1.37%, helped by continuing good performance from the BMW 5-Series. Clearly now well accepted, the latest generation bettered its April 2003 figures by 85.80% to be up 69.30% YTD. After a significant increase in March, the high-luxury segment fell by 5.63% in April and now stands at -11.82% YTD despite good performances from Audi A8 (up 27.5% in April) and the Jaguar XJ series.

While small MPVs race on, full-size MPV sales are falling. Down 11.15% in April, the decline stands at 4.47% YTD, and with the Renault Espace’s share growing there is an increasing squeeze on the competition.

Other segment highlights

o Mini: More growth for the Daihatsu Charade/Cuore – now up 108% YTD
o Supermini: Korean brands increase share – Hyundai Getz up 37.7% YTD, Daewoo Kalos up 81.0% in April
o Lower-medium: VW Golf up 13.0% in April and 7.5% YTD
o Premium lower-medium: Sales of Toyota’s Prius hybrid up almost 500%
o Upper-medium: Toyota Avensis up 107% in April and 132% YTD
o Premium upper-medium: Audi A4 beat BMW 3-Series in April but trails it YTD
o Executive: Mercedes-Benz E-Class still leads BMW 5-Series and Audi A6
o High-luxury: Bentley Continental GT 6th best-seller in April and YTD
o Mini/midi-MPV: Renault Scénic, now with Grand Scénic derivative, up 37.6% in April and 37.0% YTD
o MPV: Renault Espace up 35.1 % YTD
o SUV: VW Touareg up 138.0% YTD
o Sports: BMW Z4 up 49.6% YTD but second behind Mercedes-Benz CLK

NB All percentages are vs April 2003 unless otherwise stated