UPDATE 1-Europe monthly car sales fall at fastest pace in a year

Tue Oct 16, 2012 3:58am EDT

* EU Sept registrations down 10.8 pct to 1.10 mln vehicles

* VW down 13.8 pct, Ford down 15 pct, Opel down 16 pct

* EU year-to-date registrations down 7.6 pct at 9.37 mln

* Western Europe Jan-Sept figure down 7.6 pct at 9.15 mln

By Christiaan Hetzner

FRANKFURT, Oct 16 (Reuters) - Europe's new car market shrank at the fastest pace in the past 12 months in September, leaving nearly all major brands nursing double-digit declines, as tight household budgets kept drivers away from showrooms.

New car registrations in the European Union dropped 10.8 percent last month to 1.10 million vehicles, data published by Brussels-based industry group ACEA showed on Tuesday.

The euro zone debt crisis has hit carmakers hard, as consumers worried about their jobs and government austerity measures hold off on buying a new set of wheels.

With the slump showing no sign of abating, mass market carmakers, which have borne the brunt of the downturn, such as Peugeot, Renault and General Motors' Opel, are trying to find new ways to cut costs to survive.

The ACEA figures showed even Germany's Volkswagen brand, which has mostly gained market share in past months at the expense of its peers, saw a decline of 13.8 percent in September.

"The continuing discussion about the debt crisis has also left its mark on Germany," auto industry forecaster R.L. Polk & Co. said in a research note published late on Monday, predicting western European new car sales would drop by 1 million to just 11.76 million vehicles this year.

So far this year, western Europe's car market has shrunk by 7.6 percent to 9.15 million vehicles, ACEA said, led by declines in crisis-hit Greece, Portugal and Italy.

The UK was the only major market to post material growth, benefitting from a twice-yearly change in vehicle registration plates.

"Even assuming that the situation in the EU calms down, western European new car registrations should decline slightly (to 11.63 million) in 2013," R.L. Polk said.

Ford and Opel, Europe's second and third largest brands after VW, respectively, fared no better than VW. Their sales fell by 15 percent and 16 percent.

Renault had a near 33 percent drop in September, ceding its title as the largest French brand that month to rival Peugeot.

BMW fared better, posting a near 11 percent increase in volumes.

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