New car sales in western Europe during January rose 3.12% year on year to 1,235,466 units, according to Jato Dynamics.

It was the third consecutive month of year-on-year increases, giving cause for cautious optimism that 2005 will consolidate the stability seen in 2004.

The market trends seen in the final months of 2004 continue, with a resurgent lower-medium segment, slowing of growth for MPV (minivans) and SUV segments, and ongoing growth for sports cars.

Brands

Renault had a particularly good month in January, with total registrations up 14.30% on January 2004, to remain the top-selling car brand in western Europe. Volkswagen (up 2.57%), Ford, Opel/Vauxhall (up 7.20%) and Peugeot completed the top five. Kia remains the fastest-growing volume brand, with sales up 53.34%in January.

A number of premium brands achieved product-led growth, with BMW up 15.85%, reflecting the recent introduction of the 1-series and X3 (both recent additions to its model range), and Porsche up 23.42% thanks to the redesigned 911 and Boxster lines.

Models

The Volkswagen Golf remained western Europe's best-selling car in January, followed by the newly redesigned Ford Focus, Peugeot 206 (launched in 1998 and now into its final full year), the Opel/Vauxhall Astra and Peugeot 307. The Astra, like the Golf redesigned during 2004, was the stand-out performer, with volume up a huge 56.8% on January 2004.


Segment Highlights

Sales in the mini segment increased 0.49% in January compared to the same month a year earlier, although, as this is lower than the growth of the total market, the segment took a smaller market share. Fiat's Panda (up 6.5%) led from the Renault Twingo (up 9.3%) and Ford Ka. Superminis performed almost identically in January. Peugeot's evergreen 206 led the segment from the Renault Clio (up 2.6%), Ford Fiesta, Fiat Punto and Opel/Vauxhall Corsa.

The lower-medium category has been gaining in strength in recent months due to new product introductions, a trend continued in January with total registrations 8.60% higher than in the same month last year. The Astra's remarkable improvement was responsible for much of this last month, but the Golf (up 5.2%) still led the segment ahead of the more recently redesigned Focus (up 9.2%).

Citroën's new C4 (very keenly priced against rivals here in the UK) sold well, with registrations for the month 68.9% higher than its long-lived predecessor, the Xsara, achieved in January 2004.

The premium lower-medium segment showed the greatest growth of any in January, up 39.06% on January 2004. The Audi A3 (up 14.1%) again led the 1-series and Alfa Romeo 147.

Toyota's hybrid Prius, another 2004 newcomer, continued to establish itself, up 107.2% for the month to become the fifth best seller in the category.
 
The upper-medium segment also defied recent trends to record a small (1.06%) increase in registrations in January. The Volkswagen Passat, about to be replaced, retained its lead, while the new Peugeot 407 (up 161% compared to sales of the 406 in January 2004) claimed second place, ahead of the Ford Mondeo, Opel/Vauxhall Vectra and Renault Laguna (which is about to get a minor update).

Volvo's mid-size offerings performed well, with the V50 wagon up 29.3% compared with the equivalent previous model V40's sales in January 2004, while the S40 sedan version was up 75.0%.

However, premium upper-medium models continue to fall, with registrations 8.55% lower across western Europe in January than in 2004. Despite its imminent replacement being well known, the BMW 3-series again led the the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-class.

The executive category also declined in volume, 3.05% lower than January 2004. The Mercedes-Benz E-class led the segment from the BMW 5-series and recently redesigned Audi A6, up 43.4% following introduction late last year. Jaguar's S-type was up 20.7%, still benefiting from last year's addition of a long-overdue diesel engine option - it shares its turbocharged V6 with some Land Rover and Peugeot-Citroen models.

The high-luxury segment recorded a 4.92% rise in registrations in January. The Mercedes-Benz S-class led the Audi A8 (up 5.9%) and BMW 7 series. All models recording growth in January, including the VW Phaeton, Bentley Continental GT and Bentley Arnage, were from VW group companies.

Mini/midi MPV sales continued to grow, but at a lower rate than recently - last month saw an increase of 6.03% on the previous January, compared with annual growth of 22.84% in 2004.

Renault's Scénic/Grand Scénic (up 4.2%) remained the leader, ahead of the Opel/Vauxhall Zafira (up 22.8%) and Volkswagen Touran (up 12.0%). Toyota's Turkish-built Corolla Verso posted sales up 81.5% over its Japanese-made predecessor a year ago.

The full-size MPV segment continued to slide, with registrations down 12.90% on January 2004. The Renault Espace/Grand Espace remained top ahead of the Ford Galaxy/ Volkswagen Sharan twins (up 2.4%).

Although the SUV segment showed growth in January, up 3.91%, this was roughly in line with the total market, so the SUV share of the market increased little. The Toyota RAV4 led the BMW X3 (up 202%) and Nissan X-Trail (up 11.7%). Land Rover's fully redesigned Discovery was up 62.4%.

The sports car segment continued to increase its share of the market, with registrations 8.07% higher than in January 2004. The Mercedes-Benz SLK (up 424% following the introduction of the new-generation car in 2004) led the segment from its CLK sibling, the new Opel/Vauxhall Tigra, Alfa-Romeo GT (up 248% as a result of limited availability a year ago) and Porsche 911 (up 51.3% following introduction of the redesigned 997 series during 2004).