Although the lower-medium segment recovered from falling sales later in the year, the mini/midi-MPV segment emerged as a serious contender in the market, vehicle information specialist Jato has found.
It also found a shift in the higher priced segments, with customers choosing SUVs and premium lower-medium cars in favour of the conventional upper-medium and executive categories.
The study shows that Renault remains the top brand in Western Europe, ahead of Volkswagen, Opel/Vauxhall, Ford and Peugeot.
It adds: 'BMW performed very strongly despite many of its products being in declining segments. Registrations for the brand were up 18.7% in December and 12.4% for the full year. In December, the 3, 5 and 7-series models all led their segments, the 1-series came within a few units of leading its category and the X3 was second in the SUV table.'
It also found that Kia performed well over the year, increasing sales by more than 44%, thanks to 'outstanding' sales of the Picanto. Other brands outside the top 10 that performed well in 2004 include smart (up more than 19%), Hyundai and Mazda, both up more than 18%. In terms of individual segments, sales in the mini-segment were up by almost 4% year-on-year, lower-medium up by 1.6%, premium lower-medium up by 9.5%, upper-medium down by 5.1%, premium upper-medium down by 9.3%, executive down by 0.25% and luxury down by 11.4%.
The study also found that the growing popularity of the mini/midi-MPVs, which it said seemed unstoppable in 2004, slowed during December but still ended the year with sales for the 12 months up by almost 23% when compared to 2003.
Sales of vehicles in the full-size MPV segment, however, continued to fall, with registrations down by 10.2% for the year.