Light-vehicle sales in Western Europe jumped 7 percent last year to a record 14.34 million units. Volkswagen AG and Renault were the clear winners with gains of 12.9 percent and 16.1 percent, respectively.
Only Italy and Norway registered a drop in sales, and the modest 1.6 percent fall in Italy was caused by the ending of scrappage incentives.
Analysts said high demand at the end of the year pushed registrations to the new record. December sales increased 9.4 percent.
A sharp rise in exports to Europe helped balance the crisis at home for Korea's automakers. Through 1998, sales of Korean models rose 32.8 percent. Critics claimed Korean automakers took advantage of their weak currency by dumping cars in Europe, but Hyundai and Daewoo said they benefited from the introduction of new models.
The market was boosted further by model introductions in the lower medium segment - Europe's largest car sector. Sales were lifted by launches of the Opel Astra and Ford Focus and a large supply of the Volkswagen Golf.
Skoda sales surged by almost 37 percent, while the success of the new 156 sedan pushed Alfa Romeo sales up 37.5 percent.
Toyota was the most successful Japanese automaker in Europe last year, with a 15 percent rise in registrations. This took it past rival Nissan, which was the first maker to build an assembly plant in Europe.
Big gains for Jaguar, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Saab ensured high sales in luxury and executive segments.
Fiat, Rover and Ford, however, failed to take advantage of the buoyant European market, and their sales fell.