Expect the Poles to start catching up quickly as their markets open up and the benefits of Eu membership make themselves felt. Already the traditional Polski Fiat and FSO Polonez cars are becoming a rarer sight in Polish cities.And the overall European car buying picture does not change much if we include the smaller European nations. The UK is still right near the top – actually ahead of the wealthy Swiss and Scandinavians. But we should bear in mind that the Danes, though prosperous, at least, are hit with some of the heftiest taxes on cars in the western world.In fact, the UK is only beaten by two of the smaller countries, Belgium and Luxembourg.
Belgians bought slightly more cars per head than we did (44.3 per thousand of population), while the wealthy Luxembourgeois, who often top comparisons of this sort, bought an incredible 97.4 cars per thousand of population. Perhaps these two small countries owe their prosperity to their disproportionate share of highly-paid Euro-jobs. Belgium is home not only to the European Commission but also to the ACEA, the Europe-wide trade association for the motor industry, who published most of the car registration data. Likewise, Luxembourg hosts Eurostat, the official European statistics body, whose population data are used for these calculations. Or, just possibly, the Belgian and Luxembourgeois new car sales figures are inflated by their legendarily rich dentists.Import penetration figures provide a few surprises as well. It is no longer news that imports dominate the British market, although a lot of buyers would probably still be shocked to discover that the UK’s top-selling model, the Focus, is an import (many made in Belgium) now that Ford has ended all UK assembly of cars with the blue-oval badge.It is now more than twenty years since importers took 50 per cent of the British market MG Rover products hardly feature in the top ten sellers. But who would guess that foreign brands captured 72 per cent of the Italian market last year, up from 69.8 per cent in 2002.
The days when every second car on Italian roads seemed to be a Fiat 500 or a 127 seem over. And all despite the obvious attractions of domestically produced Fiats, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Alfa Romeos. Perhaps the position will be reversed as Fiat’s attractive new small models such as the Panda establish themselves in the market during 2004. It certainly needs to be: The Fiat Group, with its well-publicised financial problems, suffered a 10.2 per cent fall in sales across Europe last year.