TURIN -- Automakers sold 428,000 more specialty vehicles last year in western Europe, responding to growing fragmentation in consumer demand.
Western European passenger-vehicle sales fell a modest 249,000 units, or 1.7 percent, to 14.4 million last year, according to data from JATO Dynamics. But looking at segments within that total, the change was much more dramatic.
In Automotive News Europe's revised market segmentation, sales of traditional vehicles -- hatchbacks, sedans and station wagons -- fell 656,000 units or 5.5 percent.
But automakers boosted sales of unconventional vehicles -- coupes, roadsters, minivans, sport-utility vehicles exotic cars and multispaces such as the Citroen Berlingo -- by 16.8 percent last year to nearly 3 million units.
These non-traditional vehicle categories, some of which barely existed a decade ago, boosted their combined proportion of the western European market to 20.6 percent last year from 17.4 percent in 2002.
Conventional mass-market and luxury cars declined to 78.5 percent of the market last year from
81.6 percent the year before, to 11.3 million units from 12.0 million.
Some patterns emerge from an analysis of the segments.
In general, premium-brand automakers did slightly better than mass-market automakers. Volume brands lost close to 2 percent of volume last year, compared to 0.9 percent for luxury marques.
Traditional European-brand automakers dominate the traditional car, minivan and premium segments, but Asian brands control virtually all the top spots in small, compact and large SUV segments.
Of Automotive News Europe's 20 market segments, 11 were up and nine were down in 2003.
The small minivan segment showed the biggest increase, up 69.6 percent. Growth was mainly from full-year availability of the Ford Fusion and the Opel/Vauxhall Meriva.
There was substantial growth also for coupes and roadsters, up 21.4 percent, and premium SUVs, up 45.3 percent.
The biggest loss occurred in the minicar segment, down 22.3 percent. The only new product in an otherwise aging arena, the Fiat Panda, was on sale for only four months of the year.
European buyers seem to progressively walk away from large sedans, down 20.3 percent for the volume makers and off 11.1 percent in the upper-premium segment.
The trend was similar but with lower percentage losses for mid-size sedans, down 9.9 percent for volume brands in the upper-medium segment and 8.3 percent in the lower-premium group.
Small and entry-premium are the conventional-car segments suffering the least from the rise in niche products. Small cars gained 5.2 percent. Entry-premium matched the overall market's 1.7 percent decline.
The only niche segment that lost volume was small SUVs, off 9.9 percent because of declining sales for the Honda HR-V and Mitsubishi Pajero Pinin.
In terms of brands leading the most segments, Renault is the winner with four. Its Twingo leads the minicar segment, but Renault also leads three other segments that it created: compact minivan, Scenic; large minivan, Espace; and multispace, Kangoo.
Mercedes-Benz leads three segments: medium premium, upper premium and premium coupe and roadsters.
Of the 20 segments, German brands lead in 10, French lead six, Britain one, and Japanese automakers the remaining three.
The non-European leaders are all in SUV segments. Suzuki dominates the small SUV segment with the Jimny, Toyota the compact SUV with the RAV 4 and Honda the large SUV with the CR-V.