MUNICH -- Helped by a strong fourth quarter, passenger-vehicle sales jumped 15 percent to 1.19 million in central Europe in 2003, a gain of 155,000 units.
Estimated sales rose 19.7 percent in the final three months last year, according to data from JATO Dynamics. Fourth-quarter sales in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia rose to 325,000 units from 272,000 in the same period of 2002.
Volume in the six central European countries last year was less than a tenth of western Europe sales, but the environment was substantially more upbeat.
Sales fell 249,000 or 1.3 percent to 14.2 million units in western Europe, where volume is down from the 1999 peak year of 15.1 million vehicles.
But in central Europe, almost every auto group with a significant market presence boosted sales last year. Only No. 14 Mitsubishi and smaller specialists Lada and MG Rover lost volume.
Good news was easier to find. A dozen groups grew even faster than the market, ranging from Porsche's heady 189 percent growth to Fiat Auto's 15.3 percent gain that solidified its position as the region's fifth bestseller.
In terms of unit growth, several auto groups stood out. Toyota gained 21,000 units, a 44.1 percent jump to 70,000 vehicles. That catapulted it past Ford and GM Daewoo into the No. 7 sales position, even though the other two brands had very good years.
Ford slipped to No. 8, but 2003 was good for it in the region. Ford sales soared 18,000 units to 69,000, a growth rate of 35.9 percent. GM was right behind Ford in volume increases, up 19.4 percent to 108,000 units from 91,000
No. 3 PSA/Peugeot-Citroen added almost 20,000 units last year, a 17.1 percent gain to 136,000 sales.
The buoyant marketplace results meant that even automakers that lost small amounts of market share still had positive results. Both No. 1 Volkswagen group and No. 2 Renault had substantial sales increases.
Led by Skoda brand, VW group gained only 5 percent, but that was an additional 14,000 units to 296,000 for the year. Renault rose 8.3 percent, or 12,000 units, to 157,000.