STOCKHOLM (Bloomberg) -- European car sales plunged the most in almost two years, with Renault and Fiat posting the steepest declines, as the region's sovereign-debt crisis led to reduced demand in Germany, its largest economy.
Registrations plummeted 11 percent to 1.13 million vehicles last month from 1.27 million a year earlier, Brussels-based industry association ACEA said today in a statement.
It was the 12th consecutive monthly drop and the biggest decline since October 2010. Nine-month sales dropped 7.2 percent to 9.72 million cars.
"What has changed remarkably to the negative recently is the German market," Juergen Pieper, a Frankfurt-based analyst at Bankhaus Metzler, said before the figures were released. PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, Renault and Fiat "are still suffering from their weak home markets, which is their biggest problem."
Four of Europe's five biggest automotive markets shrank last month, with drops of 11 percent in Germany, 18 percent in France, 26 percent in Italy and 37 percent in Spain. (For full numbers, click on the PDF below)
Recession fear grows
The debt crisis has pushed at least five of the 17 countries using the euro into recession, and there's a 55 percent likelihood Europe will slide into such a slowdown in the next 12 months, according to a Bloomberg survey of economists.
ACEA compiles auto-sales figures from the 27 European Union countries plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland. The trade group is forecasting a 17-year low for full-year sales, and it predicted a contraction of 8 percent to 10 percent on Oct. 10, steeper than a 7 percent drop it projected earlier.
German business confidence fell to the lowest in more than 2 1/2 years in September, according to an Ifo institute survey of 7,000 executives. Gross domestic product in the 17-member euro area fell 0.2 percent in the second quarter as consumers cut spending and corporate investment slumped.
Euro-zone unemployment may rise to an average of 11.6 percent in 2013 from 11.3 percent this year.
Renault's European sales fell 29 percent last month to 78,299 cars. Talks between the carmaker, based in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt, and labor representatives on increasing efficiency should yield results in a few months as Renault seeks to weather a "storm" in Europe that may last another three to five years, Chief Operating Officer Carlos Tavares said Sept. 28.
Fiat sales in Europe fell 19 percent to 66,991 vehicles. The Turin-based carmaker is cutting production in its home market to about 420,000 cars this year from 650,000 in 2009, according to the country's Anfia automaking association.
Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has backed off his so-called Fabbrica Italia target of raising annual output in Italy to 1.4 million vehicles by 2014 as he has cut spending in Europe by 500 million euros ($648 million) this year to save cash.
Marchionne, who currently holds the ACEA's rotating presidency, said on Sept. 27 that Europe's car market may have bottomed out, and that Fiat's losses in the region may narrow next year, depending on how vehicle prices develop. The carmaker controls a majority stake in U.S. manufacturer Chrysler Group LLC, and without that holding, "we would have gone through hell" financially, he said at the time.
General Motors Co.'s group sales in Europe last month dropped 16 percent to 95,398 vehicles, led by a 20 percent drop for the Chevrolet marque. GM's main Opel and Vauxhall brands in the region posted a 16 percent decline. The Detroit-based carmaker has racked up $16.8 billion in losses in Europe since 1999. The business posted a first-half loss before interest and taxes of $617 million, and wrote down $590 million of goodwill.
Opel has proposed closing a factory in Bochum, Germany, at the end of 2016 in the first shutdown of a car plant in the country since World War II.
European sales by Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford Motor Co. declined 15 percent to 92,603 cars. The U.S. company's European pretax operating losses widened to $404 million in the second quarter from $149 million in the first quarter. The business earned profit of $176 million a year earlier. Ford forecast on July 25 that its full-year European losses will exceed $1 billion, double an earlier forecast.
Roelant de Waard, vice president of marketing, sales and service at the Ford of Europe division, said on Sept. 27 that the carmaker has been among manufacturers in the region boosting sales figures through "self-registrations," in which dealers sell cars to themselves without having customer orders.
PSA, Europe's biggest carmaker after Volkswagen AG, posted an 8.6 percent slide in sales in the region last month to 121,898 cars.
The Paris-based manufacturer has been burning through 200 million euros in cash a month as the auto market contracts, a figure that may fall by 50 percent in 2013, CEO Philippe Varin said Sept. 27.
PSA has been selling assets to cut debt and is confronting resistance from the French government to its plans to reduce the work force and close an auto plant.
Registrations in Europe by market leader Volkswagen fell 8.4 percent last month to 269,953 vehicles as the main VW brand posted a 14 percent decline. Sales at the Audi luxury marque rose 1.3 percent.
Wolfsburg-based Volkswagen is cutting back parts purchases by as much as 10 percent and demanding cheaper components in response to the weak market in the region, suppliers said last week.
BMW, the world's largest luxury-car maker, sold 83,261 cars in Europe last month, a 4.1 percent gain, with the namesake brand's registrations rising 10 percent. Daimler, whose Mercedes-Benz ranks third in the global luxury-vehicle industry after the BMW and Audi brands, reported a 6.6 percent decline in September European sales to 60,803 vehicles.