European February Car Sales Rise With Economy Bolstering VW Demand

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European car sales rose at the fastest rate in 11 months as a strengthening economy, lower fuel prices and dealer discounts encouraged purchases of vehicles made by the likes of Volkswagen AG and BMW AG.

Registrations climbed 7 percent from a year earlier to 958,100 vehicles, the Brussels-based European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, or ACEA, said in a statement Tuesday. Two-month deliveries rose 6.6 percent to 1.99 million cars. The gain in February was the biggest since a 10.4 percent jump in March 2014.

Economic confidence in the countries using the euro rose to a seven-month high in February, helped by anticipation of European Central Bank monetary stimulus and a decline in oil prices. The ECB earlier this month raised its euro-zone gross-domestic product growth forecast to 1.5 percent for 2015 from an earlier prediction of a 1 percent expansion.

“The start of the year is clearly above expectations and gives confidence that market growth estimates could look conservative,” said Sascha Gommel, a Frankfurt-based analyst at Commerzbank AG. “The overall economic outlook is looking up, and the ECB’s interest-rate policy makes refinancing cheap and encourages car purchases.”

The ACEA is forecasting that new car registrations this year will grow 2 percent to about 13 million vehicles, slowing from a 5.7 percent increase in 2014. The industry group compiles statistics from the 28 European Union countries, excluding Malta, as well as Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.

Spanish Scrap

All five of Europe’s biggest auto markets grew in February. The strongest gain was in Spain, where a government program encouraging trade-ins of old vehicles for scrap propelled a 26 percent surge. Sales jumped 13 percent in Italy and 12 percent in the U.K., that country’s 36th consecutive month of growth. Germany, Europe’s largest economy, posted a 6.6 percent gain, while French registrations rose 4.5 percent.

Group sales at Wolfsburg, Germany-based Volkswagen, Europe’s biggest carmaker, jumped 11 percent last month, with increases of 23 percent at the Spanish brand Seat, which has been adding variants of the Leon compact, and 13 percent at the main VW nameplate, whose mid-sized Passat won the European Car of the Year award at the Geneva motor show in early March.

Rebates by German car dealers widened in February, pushed by price cuts offered online, according to a study by the Center Automotive Research at the University Duisburg-Essen. Volkswagen models such as the VW Golf, Seat’s Leon and the Skoda Rapid were discounted by as much as 30 percent by Internet dealers, researchers Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer and Karsten Neuberger wrote in the study.

Jeep Renegade

BMW’s European sales rose 16 percent as the Munich-based luxury-car maker won customers with the new van-like 2-Series Active Tourer and revamped Mini small cars. Stuttgart, Germany-based competitor Daimler AG’s registrations advanced 14 percent, helped by new versions of its Smart city cars and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan and wagon.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s registrations in the region increased 11 percent as demand for the Renegade compact SUV and larger Grand Cherokee helped the Jeep brand’s sales nearly triple.

General Motors Co.’s Opel and Vauxhall brands sold 6 percent more autos in Europe last month as a new version of the Corsa small car attracted customers. Still, GM’s group sales in the region dropped 8.3 percent as the U.S. company withdrew the Chevrolet nameplate from the European market.