W. Europe car sales headed for 4% growth after strong April

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Western European new-car sales may rise 4 percent to 12.04 million unit this year as the region's auto market continues its recovery, according to analyst LMC Automotive.

Four-month year-on-year sales were up in all of the region's major markets even though Germany, the No. 1 market, suffered slight setback in April.

"With ongoing improving results in recent months and the expectation of a modestly expanding eurozone economy  for 2014, we forecast full-year sales for the region to reach 12 million units," LMC analyst Jonathon Poskitt said in a report.

Four-month sales were up 3 percent in Germany; 12.5 percent in the UK; 4 percent in France; 5 percent in Italy and 16 percent in Spain.

In April, registrations across western Europe rose 6.5 percent to 4.19 million, the eighth consecutive month of growth. That put LMC's estimated seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of sales at 12.2 million units for 2014, the best result so far this year.

April's performance was achieved even though Easter fell in the month this year, resulting in one less selling day in many markets. This factor was more than sufficient to explain the 4 percent decline in sales Germany last month, Poskitt said. 

"Selling rates continue to indicate solid expansion is in prospect this year for Europe's largest car market," he said. Germany still looks set to exceed 3 million sales in 2014, LMC forecasts.

UK sales rose 8 percent in April as growth in fleet and business sales offset weaker private sales. "The UK continues to look like it will be the largest single contributor to western European growth this year," Poskitt said.

A rise in consumer confidence in Spain produced 29 percent growth last month,  helped by a government subsidy scheme that gives buyers of new vehicles a rebate for turning in old cars. French sales rose 6 percent, while in Italy, registrations were up 2 percent.

Smaller markets are showing strong improvements in the first four months of this year, albeit some starting from very low bases, including Portugal (+44 percent), Ireland (+27 percent), Sweden (+19 percent), Greece (+17 percent) and Denmark (+11 percent).

Poskitt warned against too much enthusiasm. The Spanish market is still well below its precrisis level of 1.6 million, he said. The results in France and Spain are headed in the right direction but the economic outlook remains challenging. "We do not expect a major turnaround in these markets in the near-term," Poskitt said.

Market rebound
Download PDF, above right, for the LMC Automotive April sales commentary.

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