LONDON - The European car market fell by an estimated 1.6 percent in May. Final figures were not available. The small movement of the total market hides divergent performances in the major countries.
Italy's scrapping incentives continue to cause the market to soar. Automakers say sales were 220,000-230,000 units in May, up 40.3 percent.
Some companies estimate that the Italian market will be 2.3 million for the year, up from 1.7 million in 1996.
France fell sharply: the market misses the incentives of a year ago. French car sales were 23.0 percent lower than a year ago, after a drop of only 10.3 percent in April.
Germany also had a weak month. Sales were down 11.5 percent at 300,000 units. Analysts at Volkswagen and Opel blamed the three national holidays and a fourth in traditionally Catholic areas, as well as the effect of previously announced price rises which had pulled sales forward into April.
Consumer confidence and economic growth remain weak, but Mercedes-Benz started to take orders for the A class, and VW for the Passat wagon.
The UK car market rose 2.5 percent. The rise is expected to continue. Many UK consumers will receive windfall benefits over the summer as savings institutions turn into banks.
The Spanish car market was stronger in May.
Among the smaller markets, Danish sales jumped by about 10,000 units due to impending tax increases. Belgian new car registrations fell 10.9 percent to 32,868 units.
Total western European sales for the first five months were 5.85 million, a rise of 0.3 percent on 1996.