Declining January car sales sink European upturn hopes
PARIS (Reuters) -- New-car sales extended their declines in France, Italy and Spain last month, leaving little hope of a European auto market rebound anytime soon.
Volkswagen, Ford Motor and General Motors led a 15 percent drop in French registrations to 124,952, their lowest January level in 15 years, while sales in recession-hit Italy fell 17.6 percent to 113,525 vehicles.
In Spain, where unemployment stands at 26 percent, monthly registrations fell 9.6 percent despite support from sales subsidies of 2,000 euros ($2,700) per car reintroduced in October by the government and industry.
In Germany, where growth turned negative last May, car sales are expected to show a further monthly decline on Monday.
January car sales in France were the lowest for the month since the 122,320 recorded at the beginning of 1997, as austerity-squeezed consumers hold back on big purchases.
The data "confirmed rumors that the French passenger car market started 2013 on as weak a note as it exited 2012," Credit Suisse analyst David Arnold said. The sales declines suggest carmakers will have to cut output by a further 7 percent this year, Arnold said in a note.
French sales by the Volkswagen Group plunged 23.9 percent to 16,846 cars last month, with the decline accentuated by the comparison with January 2012, an exceptionally strong month for VW.
Combined French registrations by General Motors' Chevrolet and Opel/Vauxhall brands dropped 21.2 percent, while Ford sales fell 35.3 percent.
Renault's French car sales fell 7.4 percent, holding up better than the market thanks to a 9.9 percent gain for its low-cost Dacia brand, as consumers opted for "crisis cars" such as the no-frills Sandero compact and the Duster small SUV.
Struggling domestic rival PSA/Peugeot-Citroen saw sales plunge a further 16.7 percent at home last month.
Without the benefit of the recently released Renault Clio and Peugeot 208 subcompacts, the numbers would have been worse for the French.
January's decline was compounded by destocking in December, when automakers used heavy discounts to clear inventory of unsold cars by the end of the year, CCFA spokesman Francois Roudier said. "But demand is still very weak for small and medium-sized cars and minivans," he said.
French delivery van sales also fell 13.9 percent in January, the CCFA said, leading to a 9.1 percent drop for light vehicle registrations overall.
Fiat, Renault up in Spain
In Spain, the January sales decline was lower than December's 13.4 percent fall thanks to a government subsidy scheme but contrasted with a 2.5 percent rise in sales in January 2012.
PSA's Spanish sales shrank by more than one-third in January, while the core VW brand fell one-fifth. But a sales surge by Fiat's retro-styled 500 model delivered a 14.7 percent gain for the Italian brand.
Renault Clio sales also doubled with the model update, helping the French nameplate to a 5 percent increase overall.
Fiat Italy boost
Fiat's market share in Italy rose slightly to 30.1 percent in January, according to a statement by Fiat, compared to 29.3 percent in December.Contact Automotive News