European registrations rose 21 percent in December, fueled by an end-of-the-year buying frenzy ahead of tough new emissions rules for automakers and changes in consumer-incentive programs.
New-car registrations increased to 1.26 million vehicles in the European Union and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries, according to a statement on Thursday from industry association ACEA.
The double-digit gain was enough to push 2019 sales 1.2 percent higher to 15.8 million, reversing the previous year's slight drop.
Sales rose in December in many European markets as automakers tried to sell models with high CO2 emissions before new EU regulations went into effect on Jan. 1.
The big gain in sales was also due to a low base of comparison with 2018, when sales were crimped in the last months of the year by the introduction of WLTP emissions testing, which caused supply bottlenecks at some automakers, especially Volkswagen Group.
Winners and losers
VW Group, Europe's top-selling automaker, had a good December with volume up 21 percent. The group's Porsche brand, which was badly hit late last year by supply problems, saw sales jump 63 percent. Seat gained 35 percent, Audi sales grew 31 percent, Skoda registrations rose 23 percent and VW brand increased 13 percent.
At PSA Group, Europe's No. 2 automaker by volume, registrations fell 2.7 percent, dragged down by a steep sales decline at Opel, which axed its Adam, Karl and Cascada models in 2019. Opel sales fell 35 percent. PSA's other brands gained volume. Peugeot sales rose 13 percent, Citroen was up 12 percent and DS jumped 64 percent.
Renault Group sales grew 23 percent, with Renault brand up 22 percent and Dacia rising 23 percent.
Ford's registrations increased 20 percent.
- Download PDF here for December and 2020 sales by group, brand and market.
Fiat Chrysler Group's sales gained 14 percent with a 25 percent rise in Fiat registrations. Jeep sales fell 8 percent and Alfa Romeo edged up just 1 percent.
Among Asian brands, Hyundai registrations rose 24 percent, Nissan 23 percent, Toyota 20 percent and Kia 9 percent.
German premium brands BMW and Mercedes-Benz saw sales rise 21 percent and 7.9 percent, respectively.
In Europe's top five markets, December registrations increased 28 percent in France, 20 percent in Germany, 13 percent in Italy, 7 percent in Spain and 3.4 percent in the UK.
Among smaller markets, sales in Sweden more than doubled to 48,129 from 23,000 on a change in emissions-based taxes for new cars. Sales also more than doubled in the Netherlands to 42,436 from 19,842 ahead of an increase to 8 percent from 4 percent in the tax rate for electric company cars.
The latest European figures show how volatile the regulatory environment has become in the region and its effects on the industry, as governments push policies aimed at lowering carbon emissions.
This year ushered in stiff European Union penalties for manufacturers on the sale of the most polluting models, while individual countries including Germany put in place subsidies toward the purchase of electric cars.
Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report