Six consecutive months of year-on-year growth in western European car sales has some market watchers revising their sales forecasts upwards.
"The outlook for 2014 is for a solid improvement of 3 percent on the previous year, with potential upside if the German and Spanish markets can sustain recent form," Jonathon Poskitt, LMC Automotive's head of European sales forecasting, said in a commentary on the February results.
LMC's new forecast is up marginally on its full-year view from January of a 2.7 percent sales increase, but the change suggests that LMC is now optimistic that 3 percent should be the minimum growth that can be expected.
"Following a weaker seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) in January -- itself a consequence of the strong finish to 2013 -- the February selling rate headed in the right direction once again, climbing to 11.9 million units a year," Poskitt said.
For western Europe as a whole, car sales grew by 5 percent in February compared with the same month in 2013. That's the same level of growth recorded in the first month of this year.
However, there were significant changes in country performances over the two months.
In Germany February sales grew 4.3 percent, lower than the 7.2 percent increase recorded in the first month of the year. However, allowing for seasonal factors, the SAAR gained momentum, rising from 5.6 percent in January to 6.3 percent. Because of Germany’s healthy labor market and rising real wages Poskitt said “the outlook appears bright for the region's largest market.”
In Italy, where sales rose 8.6 percent in February compared with the same month of 2013, sales so far this year are running 5.9 percent ahead of last year. But the SAAR still indicates that sales for the full year will be down 1.1 percent. Poskitt explained this paradox to Automotive News Europe by pointing out that in the opening months of 2013 the SAAR for Italy averaged just 1.2 million units a year, got a little stronger over the following four months, and then tailed off again. "In other words, the Italian car market was desperately weak at the start of last year and so the start of 2014 looks, comparatively, somewhat better," he told Automotive News Europe in an e-mailed reply to questions.
In Spain, where February sales surged by 17.8 percent following strong 7.6 percent growth in January, the SAAR suggests there will be a full-year improvement of 7.8 percent.
UK car sales showed their 24th monthly increase in a row. The selling rate there has been slowing in recent months, as has the rate of year‐on‐year improvement. However, Poskitt points out, February is seasonally weak because registrations tend to be held off until the March registration plate change. "With low unemployment, low interest rates and a strongly improving economy, the environment remains supportive for a further solid improvement for 2014 as a whole," he said in his commentary.
Of the major markets, France remains of greatest concern. It was the only one to record a year‐on‐year decline last month. LMC believes that any meaningful growth in car sales in France will likely be postponed until employment prospects there improve.