New light-vehicle sales in Western Europe rose 4.8 percent in 1999 to a record 15,065,196 with the help of a 0.3 percent upward nudge in December, to 956,082.
ACEA, the European automakers' association, said the market was lifted by low interest rates, stable prices and the introduction of several new models. Of 18 markets tallied, only Italy, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Norway reported lower sales in 1999 than in 1998.
Tax cuts in Spain and Greece also buoyed sales, the association said. Sales in Greece surged 45.3 percent, and Spain, Europe's fifth-biggest market, was up 18.1 percent.
Among the four major markets, Germany was up 1.4 percent for the year, to 3,787,679 units, despite a 7 percent fall in December. Italy was off 1.2 percent for the year; France rose 10.5 percent, and the United Kingdom slipped 2.2 percent.
VW LEAD GROWS
Volkswagen Group widened its commanding lead in market share by nearly a full point in 1999 as sales climbed 9.6 percent over 1998, to 2,836,229. The group, consisting of the Volkswagen, Audi, Seat and Skoda brands, finished the year with 18.82 percent of the market, up from 18 percent a year earlier.
The year's No. 2 seller, France's PSA Group, also gained market share with the help of strong sales of the Peugeot 206 supermini. The group, made up of Peugeot and Citroen, finished 1999 with 12.1 percent of the 18-nation market, up from 11.4 percent in 1998, as sales jumped 11.6 percent.
The remaining Big 6 makers - General Motors, Ford, Fiat and Renault - finished virtually unchanged or lost market share. Ford, despite the acquisition of Volvo Car, shed a half point of share to 11.2 percent.
JAPANESE SHARE DIPS
Fiat Auto, reflecting problems in its home market, lost 1.4 points of Europe-wide market share, to 9.55 percent. Fiat's home-market share tumbled to 35.5 percent in December from 38.7 percent a year earlier.
Sales of Japanese light vehicles in Western Europe totaled just over 1.7 million in 1999, up 1.3 percent from the previous year to yield an 11.8 percent market share. That was down from 12.4 percent in 1998.
Among the Japanese manufacturers, Toyota sales rose 10.2 percent from a year earlier, while Nissan tumbled 9.1 percent.
Sales of Korean imports in 1999 increased 22.3 percent from 1998. Their market share grew to 3.1 percent from 2.7 percent in 1998.
Geoff Barton of Automotive News Europe contributed to this article.