PARIS -- France's No. 2 carmaker Renault posted a 4.2 percent rise in global unit sales in 2004, driven by progress outside Europe and the continuing popularity of its Megane range, it said on Thursday.
Renault said it would focus on maintaining its western European market share in 2005 while maximizing profitability. Renault had lost some ground in Germany in 2004, but commercial director Patrick Blain said it had been prepared to sacrifice a small amount of market share to maintain profitability.
The company said it expected the western European car market to be flat in 2005, similar to 2004 when carmakers struggled against lackluster consumer spending, high raw-material costs and price pressures from overseas manufacturers.
Global volume sales growth would be pursued through the launch of new products, the growing popularity of its no-frills Logan model and expansion in new markets.
"The group will clearly benefit in 2005 with a range that is both enlarged and almost completely renewed," Renault said, adding that a replacement for its small Clio model will be launched in the summer of 2005.
It said the current average age of its range was under 3-1/2 years, and that it aimed to maintain this pace of renewal.
Renault said sales of cars and light vehicles including its Dacia and Samsung brands rose to 2,488,523 units in 2004, while its own-brand sales rose 4.5 percent to 2,308,181 units.
WESTERN EUROPE FLAT
Vehicle sales in the key market of western Europe grew 0.3 percent, giving Renault a 10.8 percent share of the passenger car and light commercial vehicle market in 2004.
It said its Megane range was a top-selling model in Europe for the second year running in 2004 and that its Modus super-mini launched in September had secured 80,000 orders in western Europe since its introduction.
Renault said a policy of focusing on profitable growth would be key to success in a difficult western European market.
"We will pursue our selective strategy of focusing on the most profitable segments," Blain told a news conference held to discuss the results.
Sales outside western Europe rose 16.4 percent to 676,870 units in 2004.
"The figures seem perfectly all right but there's an extent to which we were worried about Germany and it does indicate that Megane has been losing a little bit of momentum progressively," said Stephen Cheetham, analyst at Sanford C Bernstein.
Renault's market share in Germany, Europe's biggest car market slipped 1.3 percent in the year, hit by poor economic conditions, weak demand and discounting and promotions from German manufacturers.
GROWTH FURTHER AFIELD
Renault said sales rose 101 percent in Turkey and 32 percent in eastern Europe and Russia, and that it also made progress in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
Sales at Dacia, its Romanian subsidiary, rose 38.6 percent boosted by the launch of the Logan in September.
Renault said the Logan had already secured over 40,000 orders and that 20,000 had been sold in Dacia's home market in Romania in its first four months.
The company said it would launch the Logan in a number of new markets including Syria, Slovenia, Poland and Ukraine in 2005, and production of the car would start in Russia, Morocco and Colombia. The low-cost car will also go on sale in western Europe at the end of first half of 2005.
Renault posted better-than-expected third-quarter sales in October and kept its full-year operating margin target of 5.5 percent despite the sluggish European market.
Renault's rival PSA Peugeot Citroen reports 2004 unit sales on Friday.