Southern Europe Woes Lead Downward Spiral in Car Sales

Europe Car Sales Fall for Seventh Straight Month
Newly-manufactured Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo automobiles sits on rail freight wagons at the Fiat SpA factory in Cassino, Italy. European car sales dropped for a seventh consecutive month, with Renault SA, Toyota Motor Corp. and Fiat SpA posting the biggest declines, as consumers tightened spending amid a weak economy. Photographer: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg

European car deliveries dropped for a seventh consecutive month, with German growth unable to counter sales declines of 18 percent or more in the battered economies of Italy, Spain and Greece.

Registrations fell 6.5 percent in April to 1.06 million vehicles from 1.13 million a year earlier, the Brussels-based European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, or ACEA, said today in a statement. Renault SA, Toyota Motor Corp. and Fiat SpA posted the biggest declines, as consumers across the region tightened spending amid a weak economy.

Sales in Italy plunged 18 percent, Spain dropped 22 percent and Greece plummeted 57 percent. Gross domestic product in the 17-nation euro region stagnated in the latest quarter compared with the prior three months, the European Union’s statistics office said yesterday, as German growth helped the euro area narrowly avoid its second recession in three years.

“Some countries in Southern Europe are experiencing a drop in new car registrations,” Bayerische Motoren Werke AG Chief Executive Officer Norbert Reithofer said today at the carmaker’s annual meeting in Munich. “Uncertain consumers tend to buy fewer cars. In such a situation, we find it tough-going in the market just like everyone else.”

European stocks and commodities retreated today amid deepening speculation Greece will have to leave the euro currency bloc. Renault fell as much as 3.5 percent in Paris, and Fiat declined as much 3.1 percent in Milan.

Fifth Annual Drop

BMW, Toyota and PSA Peugeot Citroen are forecasting the region’s auto market will contract about 5 percent this year, the fifth consecutive annual decline. Four-month deliveries in Europe decreased 7.1 percent to 4.49 million cars. Sales in Germany, Europe’s largest auto market with about 25 percent of all registrations in the region, increased 1.8 percent to 1.05 million vehicles. U.K. four-month sales are up 1.4 percent.

“Germany is pretty much standing alone, and to some extent the U.K., with problems elsewhere,” said Jonathon Poskitt, head of European sales forecasting at LMC Automotive in Oxford. “Spain is not climbing out of its hole anytime soon, and the Italian market is also weighed down by pressures in the wider economy.”

European automakers will continue to weaken if they’re not allowed by governments in the region to restructure and cut jobs, Renault Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn said at a recent automotive forum in New York. Executives estimate overcapacity is about 20 percent on the continent. European sales by Boulogne-Billancourt, France-based Renault tumbled 15 percent to 89,724 cars last month, according to the ACEA.

Fiat Woes

Fiat, the Italian carmaker that controls Chrysler Group LLC, nearly doubled its loss before interest, taxes and one-time items in Europe in the first quarter to 207 million euros. Fiat’s April European sales dropped 11 percent to 75,462 autos.

Toyota’s sales declined 13 percent to 41,259 cars. The Toyota City, Japan-based company started producing Europe’s first hybrid subcompact last month, and will introduce the image-boosting GT86 sports coupe in a bid to claw back market share in the region after sales plunged 41 percent since 2007.

Even Volkswagen AG, which had managed previously to increase sales on the strength of its Audi luxury brand, was unable to buck the downward trend last month. Europe’s largest automaker posted a 5.2 percent decline in deliveries in April. Audi sales gained 4.4 percent, while the namesake brand dropped 8.4 percent and the Spanish Seat unit plunged 22 percent.

Peugeot Plunge

Peugeot, Europe’s second-biggest carmaker, announced plans in late February to team up with General Motors Co. in a bid to turn around its unprofitable auto operations. The Paris-based carmaker’s sales in Europe fell 0.2 percent to 132,466 vehicles in April. Four-month deliveries are 14 percent lower.

BMW, the world’s largest luxury carmaker, had the best performance among the 10 top-selling auto companies in Europe, gaining 2.6 percent to 68,334 units. Daimler AG, whose Mercedes-Benz division is the world’s third-biggest luxury-vehicle, rose 1.1 percent to 56,677 autos.

“Germany’s economy is still strong, which drives the car market,” said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen. “Southern Europe will cause problems for the next three to five years because there’ll be less money available for some time.”

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