French bear brunt of Europe's deepening auto slump

PARIS/BERLIN Fri Dec 14, 2012 9:56am EST

The logo of French car manufacturer Renault is seen in front of the Eiffel tower at a dealership in Paris, November 2, 2012. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

The logo of French car manufacturer Renault is seen in front of the Eiffel tower at a dealership in Paris, November 2, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Christian Hartmann

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PARIS/BERLIN (Reuters) - France's PSA Peugeot Citroen (PEUP.PA) and Renault (RENA.PA) led a 10 percent decline in European car sales in November, the market's first double-digit contraction in more than two years as economic gloom spread east and north.

The French suffered most - closely followed by General Motors (GM.N) and Fiat FIA.MI - as demand weakened sharply at home, in Germany and in eastern Europe, according to data published on Friday by the Association of European Carmakers.

Total European registrations fell to 965,918 cars for the month and 11.69 million for January-November, down 7.2 percent on the same period last year.

"European end market weakness is showing no signs of abating," London-based Credit Suisse analyst David Arnold wrote in a note published on Friday.

With December a seasonally weak sales month, Europe appears on course to record a similar drop for the year as a whole, to about 12.2 million total sales - its lowest in close to two decades. Most commentators now expect 2013 volumes to decline further, according to Arnold.

"Tough times clearly still lie ahead for Europe's mass-market car players," the Credit Suisse analyst said.

Paris-based Peugeot, scrapping more than 10,000 jobs and a car plant to stem losses, suffered a 16 percent regional sales slide as its home market shrank 19 percent.

Renault's November registrations plunged 27 percent as the spreading economic weakness hurt sales of its no-frills Dacia brand, which until recently had resisted the worst of the slump.

Ripple effects are still being felt from the collapse of austerity-hit Mediterranean auto markets last year.

The downtrend didn't even spare Germany where year-to-date registrations have held broadly stable at just below 2.9 million vehicles. The drop in new auto sales in Europe's biggest market deepened to 3.5 percent in November after a 0.5 percent dip in October.

"Orders have weakened considerably," said Ernst-Robert Nouvertne, who runs two VW dealerships near Germany's city of Cologne. "No one knows yet how much the debt crisis is going to cost us in the end. But our tax-paying customers will have to pay the piper. That's bad for our business."

Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE), Europe's biggest automaker, posted a 2.5 percent sales drop led by the core VW brand, though has raised its market share to almost a quarter this year from 23.3 percent in 2011.

German rivals BMW (BMWG.DE) and Daimler (DAIGn.DE) and Japan's Toyota (7203.T) have also expanded their footprint in the embattled European region while the market share of Peugeot, Renault, Ford and Fiat dropped, according to ACEA.

The sales decline also worsened in eastern Europe - from 2.2 percent to 6.7 percent in Poland and from 7.4 percent to 11 percent in the Czech Republic.

GM and Fiat both tumbled 13 percent across Europe, while Ford (F.N) paced the market's 10 percent fall.

The last time European auto sales fell 10 percent or more was in October 2010, when the market recorded a 16 percent year-on-year contraction to 1.06 million cars.

(Editing by Mark Potter)

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