Photographer: Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg

European Car Sales Surge 11% as Fiat, Renault Lure Buyers

  • Sales in March jump 11% as lower unemployment buoys confidence
  • U.K. shrugs off Brexit concerns with 8.4% gain last month

European car sales in March rose to their highest level for the month as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Renault SA took advantage of a solid economy to lure more buyers.

Benefiting from extra working days due to the Easter holiday in April this year, industrywide registrations climbed 11 percent to 1.94 million vehicles last month, the Brussels-based European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, or ACEA, said Wednesday. Fiat and Renault gained market share at the expense of regional leader Volkswagen AG and No. 2 PSA Group.

Falling unemployment and 15 consecutive quarters of euro-area economic growth helped buoy consumer confidence in Europe, underpinning auto demand. Even the U.K., Europe’s biggest auto market after Germany, has resisted a Brexit-induced slowdown, with sales in the country up 8.4 percent last month as buyers rushed to buy ahead of vehicle-tax changes that took effect in April. The region’s resilient car market is a contrast to the U.S., where vehicle sales unexpectedly declined in March.

“The latest car market result supports the positive news that we have seen from the wider economy” in Europe, Jonathon Poskitt, an analyst with LMC Automotive in Oxford, England, said in a report, adding that the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate in western Europe is currently at the highest level since early 2008.

Still, sales growth will likely slow as a recovery from a two-decade low in 2013 loses steam. Annual deliveries in the coming years are expected to fall short of the 2007 peak as more consumers opt for car-sharing and other alternatives to owning their own vehicles. LMC forecasts that western European sales will rise 2.7 percent in 2017, compared with the 7.4 percent gain through the first three months of the year, with the U.K. suffering a slowdown from the tax changes.

Germany, Europe’s biggest market, posted an 11 percent gain in March. Registrations in France, in the midst of a hotly contested election, climbed 7 percent. In Italy, car deliveries surged 18 percent. The ACEA compiles numbers from the European Union’s 28 member countries, excluding Malta, plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.

Volkswagen’s European sales failed to keep pace with the overall market, rising 6.2 percent in March. That caused its market share to drop to 21.4 percent from 22.4 percent a year earlier. The manufacturer’s diesel-related troubles have persisted more than a year into the emissions-cheating scandal.

Paris-based PSA, which agreed in March to purchase General Motors Co.’s European division, saw its market share, including the U.S. company’s Opel unit, narrow to 16.1 percent from 16.9 percent, underscoring the competitive pressure in the region.

Fiat Chrysler, whose Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X have been winning over customers in Europe’s growing sport utility vehicle segment, boosted its market share to 6.8 percent from 6.3 percent. Renault’s Captur SUV and Scenic minivan helped it woo 9.5 percent of the region’s car buyers in March, up from 9.2 percent a year earlier.

— With assistance by Benjamin D Katz

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