New-car sales in western Europe fell almost 6 percent year-on-year in September as consumer confidence was hit by rising fuel prices and the weak euro.
ACEA, the European automakers' association, offered four additional reasons for the decline:
Disruption of transportation by fuel price protests
Large stocks of high-quality used cars
Supply problems for several manufacturers
Consumers waiting for new models on display at the Paris auto show.
Germany, western Europe's No. 1 car market, continued to suffer. It dropped 11 percent against September 1999 figures. For January-September, Germany was 11.3 percent down, to 2.6 million units, compared with the year-ago period.
'September appears to have been a turbulent month in many western European markets with decreasing results in most countries,' ACEA said in a statement.
Of the five main markets - Germany, France, the UK, Italy and Spain - only Italy improved in September.
'The Italian market showed remarkable strength during September,' said Charles Moss, auto analyst with J.D. Power-LMC in Oxford, England. 'This increase appears to correspond with a high degree of discounting, and freer supply of diesel models.'
In Italy, Moss said manufacturers are anxious to shift stocks of vehicles equipped with engines that do not meet Euro III emissions standards. Sales of such vehicles will be restricted in Italy next year.
Among the smaller countries, Greece and Sweden showed September sales increases of 40.8 percent and 2.1 percent respectively. But the remainder - including Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland - all declined.
'While the underlying economic statistics still show a favorable environment, it may be that recent developments are beginning to erode consumer confidence,' ACEA said.
It added: 'Increases in the prices of fuel may be encouraging consumers to delay car replacement. Uncertainty about future interest rates may also be a factor.'
Among the few carmakers to post improved sales in September was France's PSA group, which comprises the Peugeot and Citroen brands. PSA sales were up 9.4 percent year-on-year, to 157,726 units. Citroen sales grew 21.9 percent, due in part to a fierce price-cutting campaign in the UK and the popularity of the Xsara Picasso compact minivan.
PSA's market share in western Europe for the first nine months was 12.9 percent, up a full percentage point from a year ago.
By contrast, the market shares of both the Ford group and the Ford brand fell 1 percent compared with January-September 1999. Ford group's share is currently 10.9 percent; the Ford brand's is 8.7 percent.
Britain's MG Rover showed a 47.1 percent decline in sales in September, to 17,197 units. The
carmaker, which was sold by Germany's BMW in March, has just cut prices by as much as one-fifth in its home market in an attempt to boost sales.
There were only a few other sales successes reported by individual brands in September. Lancia led the way, with sales up 47.8 percent on September 1999, thanks to the popularity of its lower-luxury Lybra. Skoda, Smart and Chrysler also had double-digit percentage point sales increases.