Sales of new cars in western Europe declined 0.5 percent in August compared with the same month in 1999, mainly due to a disappointing month in Germany and technical factors in France and the UK.
The slight fall was a big improvement on July, when sales slumped 15.7 percent from the year-ago period.
ACEA, the European automakers' association, issued the two months' figures together. Release of the July sales was delayed because of the summer break.
New-car sales in western Europe totaled 899,277 in August (down from 903,637) and 1.2 million in July (down from 1.5 million).
Sales in the January-August period fell 1 percent, to 10.4 million units from 10.5 million units.
According to ACEA, 'continuing weakness in Ger-many, change in the model year introductions in France and adjustment to the new twice-yearly plate change in the UK were decisive factors [in the July and August figures].'
ACEA said the German market for new cars suffered from large stocks of high-quality used vehicles. German new-car sales are down 11.3 percent (to 2.3 million) in the first eight months compared with 1999.
This year, France abolished the millesime that fixed July 1 as the start of its new model year. Traditionally, French new-car sales hit a low in June and reached a peak in July. That didn't happen this year, with France's July sales falling 36.1 percent to 186,842 from 292,625. But, at 1.5 million, France is still 2.7 percent up in the eight-month period.
In the UK, a new twice-yearly registration plate change means that sales peaks now occur in March and September. The UK previously changed plates once a year, in August. UK buyers like to drive cars with the most up-to-date plates and delay their purchases accordingly. This year, plates with 'W' and 'X' prefixes have been introduced.
The UK new-car market fell 6.4 percent in July (to 156,588) and dropped 4.3 percent in August (to 71,228). For January-August, UK new-car sales totaled 1.4 million - 0.8 percent up on the first eight months of 1999.
Ford group sales for the first eight months of the year slipped 10 percent to 1.1 million. All brands except Jaguar registered a decline. The worst affected was the Ford brand itself, which dropped 12.1 percent to 878,285. Its market share in western Europe fell to 8.5 percent from 9.5 percent a year earlier.
Toyota, the top Japanese brand in the region, sold 376,981 in the first eight months, up 19.2 percent on the same period last year -mainly due to the popularity of the Yaris supermini.
Sales of DaimlerChrysler's Smart city car grew 70.6 percent during January-August, to 66,613. Seat, Peugeot, Citroen, Nissan, Saab, Fiat, Lancia, Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler and the Korean marques also showed improved sales in western Europe during the eight-month period.