Japanese and Korean automakers last year continued to take share away from the locals in a European market that slipped 1.3 percent from 2002, to 14.2 million units.
Constrained until 1999 by a system of formal and informal quotas that dictated their allowable market shares, the Japanese have since broken out of their marketing beachhead with a raft of new, competitively priced models developed for European tastes.
Among the major Japanese makes, Toyota/Lexus was up 7.1 percent for the year, while Nissan, riding on the success of its new Micra, rose 12.7 percent. Mazda sales, buoyed by demand for the Mazda6 sedan and wagon, soared 30.4 percent to eclipse Honda as the No. 3 Japanese make in Europe. Honda was up 6.8 percent.
Koreans Hyundai and Kia also posted strong gains. Hyundai sales rose 9.9 percent, while Kia soared 48.4 percent.
In contrast, each of the six biggest European automakers posted lower sales in 2003. No. 1 Volkswagen Group was off 2.5 percent; PSA slipped 2.7 percent; Ford Group, 4.4 percent; Renault, 2.4 percent; GM, 2.8 percent; and Fiat Group, 10.2 percent.
Premium brands also fared badly last year, contradicting the conventional wisdom that luxury weathers economic uncertainty well.
Ford Motor Co.'s Volvo, Land Rover and Jaguar brands all were down on the year, as were Mercedes-Benz and Audi. Perennial gainer BMW brand surged 42.6 percent in December with a boost from the new 5 series - but was up only 259 units for the full year.
In a recent research report, Goldman Sachs said it expects the overall European market to be up about 2.5 percent this year. But Asian makes likely will be the big winners again, it suggests.
"We expect the competitive landscape to intensify further in 2004 as Japanese and Korean manufacturers target higher market share," the firm said.
Japanese brands increased their Europe-wide share by 1.2 percentage points last year to 12.7 percent, according to the Automotive News Data Center. European makes surrendered 1.4 points, to 74.7 percent overall.