The lower-medium segment was down 3.67% in March compared to the same month last year and year-to-date was down 5.69%. For the whole of 2003 it was down 9.5%, according to information provider Jato Dynamics.
A spokesman said: 'The upper-medium players also rallied hard in March, down just 1.69%, leaving the segment down 6.03% year-to-date – still concerning but a marked improvement on its 2003 full-year fall of 10.3%.'
The real sales star continued to be in the mini-MPV segment, which is up almost 30% in March and almost 31% year-to-date.
Jato added that the Peugeot 206 held on to its position as Europe's top seller for the month and year-to-date and the Volkswagen Golf and Peugeot 307 retained their second and third placings.
The spokesman added: 'The mini segment continues to reverse its 2003 decline, improving over March last year by 4.06%, fuelled by the new Fiat Panda and Daihatsu Cuore/Charade.
'Superminis, meanwhile, remain consistent, up 1.89% in March for growth of 1.51% year-to-date. Behind the Peugeot 206 at the top of the segment are the Renault Clio and Opel/Vauxhall Corsa for both month and year-to-date.'
The premium lower-medium sector also showed strength, up 9% on March 2003 and 5.6% year-to-date.
He said: 'But the segment is dependent on Audi's A3, which leads from the Alfa Romeo 147 and Volkswagen Bora.' The premium upper-segment has no cause for optimism, it adds, despite 'rich product offerings.'
Jato found that the executive segment was standing up well with sales up by 8.7% for March and 2.3% year-to-date.
'BMW's recently launched 5-series is predictably the most improved competitor, but it still trails the Mercedes-Benz E-class in first place,' he added.