European car sales show signs of bottoming out

MILAN/PARIS Mon Jul 1, 2013 3:01pm EDT

MILAN/PARIS (Reuters) - The fall in Italian, Spanish and French car sales slowed its pace in June, raising some hopes that the bottom of a five-year slump in the crisis-hit European market could be close.

In Italy, Europe's fourth-largest car market, June sales fell 5.5 percent on the year compared with the 8 percent plunge seen a month earlier, while in Spain they fell 0.7 percent versus May's 2.6 percent drop.

In France, car registrations fell 9 percent, as the country's main industry body expressed hope that the market may be close to bottoming out.

Squeezed household budgets and rising unemployment have discouraged consumers in France and other European countries from purchases of big-ticket items, and the car market is nearing a two-decade low after five years of contraction.

"It's a fairly constrained fall compared to the recent past, especially if we bear in mind that June had one less working day than June 2012," Italy's automotive research group, Centro Studi Promotor, said in a note.

And it was also brighter news on the orders front. According to Italian foreign carmakers' association, UNRAE, orders for new cars grew almost 7 percent in June.

But Promotor said that on the basis of first-half results Italian sales for the whole year would be around 1.259 million vehicles - a level not seen since the 1970s and a 49.5 percent fall on pre-crisis 2007 levels.

France's main industry body, CCFA, reiterated its forecast of an 8 percent decline in sales for the full year, saying that the market is probably nearing the bottom of its slump.

French car sales at struggling PSA Peugeot Citroen (PEUP.PA) dropped a further 9.5 percent, while French rival Renault (RENA.PA) was able to slow down the decline in June to 3.6 percent from a drop of 16.5 percent in May.

In Spain, one of the markets hit hardest by Europe's debt crisis, a government subsidy scheme has helped sales to individuals, which rose 13.6 percent on the year, but this failed to offset a 24.4 percent decline in sales to companies.

(Additional reporting by Paul Day and Gilles Guillaume; editing by Christian Plumb, Patrick Graham and Matthew Lewis)