European car sales rose only slightly last year as Volkswagen, Toyota and Fiat gained market share with new models. The European Automobile Manufacturers Association said Germans bought the most cars with sales up 3.8%. The picture was almost as good in Italy, but sales were down in Britain, France and Spain.
A total of 15.36 million cars were registered. That was up 0.7% on the previous year. VW’s sales rose 5.3% , Fiat’s by 16.9% and Toyota and its luxury brand Lexus by 9.7%. The year’s big losers were France’s Renault, which was down 11% and the Asian carmakers Nissan and Kia, which both experienced sales declines of 12.3%.
By contrast, Japan’s Toyota saw its market share in Europe rise to 5.8% from 5.4% a year earlier. Toyota is on track to become the world biggest carmaker by volume – overtaking General Motors – and it expects to sell 1.3 million vehicles in Europe by 2008.
Car industry analysts said that higher fuel prices and interest rates accounted for the modest rise in sales last year, but for some that didn’t matter. Rolls Royce – which is owned by BMW – had record sales last year for the fourth year running delivering 805 of its Phantoms.