FRANKFURT -- Fiat S.p.A., PSA/Peugeot-Citroen SA and Renault SA were hit hard as European full-year car sales declined for the fourth consecutive year as consumer confidence fell and unemployment remained at record levels.
Registrations last year fell 1.4 percent to 13.6 million vehicles, propelled by a 5.8 percent drop in December, Brussels-based industry group ACEA said today in a statement.
Four of the region's five biggest markets contracted, with Spain and Italy leading annual declines at 18 percent and 11 percent respectively.
European consumer confidence fell for an eighth consecutive month in December to the lowest level since August 2009 as unemployment stayed at its highest rate since before the introduction of the euro currency in 1999.
"All the manufacturers that are landlocked in Europe are going to have another very, very tough year in 2012," Christoph Stuermer, an analyst at IHS Automotive, said in an interview in Frankfurt, adding that he forecasts a 5 percent sales decline in Europe this year.
PSA and Renault, France's largest carmakers, are cutting production capacity to reduce inventories. Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said earlier this month that the European auto market may be flat until 2014, with Italian sales likely to reach their lowest level since 1985 this year at less than 1.7 million vehicles.
'Significant economic pressure'
The French manufacturers' "core market in western Europe is under significant economic pressure," Stuermer said. "It would be unfair to expect them to swing their sales around when their core market has gone."
ACEA compiles figures from European Union member countries plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland. Western European car sales, which don't include figures from the nations that have joined the EU since 2004, fell 1.3 percent to 12.8 million vehicles in 2011.
European sales at PSA, the region's second-biggest carmaker after Volkswagen, dropped 9 percent last year, while registrations at Fiat declined 12 percent. Sales at Renault fell 8 percent.
UK, Spanish declines
Sales in the UK and France also declined last year, tumbling 4 percent and 2 percent each. Registrations in Germany, Europe's largest car market with sales that account for almost one in four vehicles delivered in the region, grew 6.1 percent in December, slowing the full-year gain in the country to 9 percent.
The end of a property and construction boom, fueled by a speculative bubble and low interest rates during the previous decade, has caused Spain's unemployment rate to more than double to 23 percent.
The country's underlying inflation rate slowed in December as the economy edged closer to a second recession in two years. Spain's car market, which peaked in 2007 at 1.61 million vehicles, probably won't top that figure in this decade, according to Jonathon Poskitt, an Oxford, England-based analyst at LMC Automotive.
The market research estimates that industrywide car sales in western Europe will fall to 12.1 million vehicles in 2012.
Daimler AG, whose Mercedes-Benz division is the world's third-biggest luxury-vehicle maker after BMW AG and Volkswagen AG's Audi division, posted a 0.4 percent European sales increase last year, boosted by an 8 percent jump in December.