Renault, VW lead European car sales rally as recovery spreads

Thu Jan 16, 2014 2:00am EST

* European car sales rise for fourth month

* Dec gain is biggest monthly increase since Dec 2009

* Renault, VW, Ford, GM, Toyota post double-digit growth

BERLIN, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Renault, Volkswagen and Ford spurred monthly European car sales to their highest year-on-year gain in four years in December, industry data showed on Thursday, as the sector recovery spreads to Mediterranean markets.

Registrations in the European Union and European Free Trade Association trading bloc jumped 13 percent to 948,090 vehicles, the fourth straight monthly gain, the Association of European Carmakers (ACEA) said.

Italy, the region's fourth-biggest market, swung to growth of 1.4 percent after eleven consecutive months of contraction as all major markets increased sales. Greece and Portugal, victims of the euro zone's debt crisis, posted double-digit growth.

"The recovery process in Europe is seemingly taking hold," Matthias Wissmann, head of Germany's VDA auto industry lobby said. "People are building up trust again in the strength of economies."

The December rally pared the sales decline for 2013 to 1.8 percent or 12.3 million cars, the sixth consecutive year of contraction but a more modest fall than many in the industry had feared earlier in 2013.

Sales at Renault rose 29 percent, driven by a 48 percent-surge at its low-cost Dacia brand. Germany's VW, Europe's No. 1 carmaker by volume, gained 22 percent, with double-digit growth extending from luxury flagship Audi to the no-frills Skoda and Seat divisions.

Ford registrations were up 19.5 percent and Toyota, the global sales champion, posted a 10.8 percent increase.

For 2014, most industry executives and analysts expect a return in Europe to low single-digit growth while cautioning that further losses are likely as pricing remains under pressure due to chronic excess capacity.

Even automakers beset with losses or lacking new models won respite across the market of 30 countries.

French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen and Italy's Fiat swung back to sales growth of 8.6 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively, from declines of 1.2 percent and 5.8 percent in November.

GM deliveries bounced back to 13 percent growth from a 3.8 percent contraction a month earlier, even as the U.S. carmaker is withdrawing its underperforming Chevrolet marque from Europe to focus on reviving mid-market Opel.

The loss-making Opel/Vauxhall brands sprung back to 22 percent growth, after a 3.1 percent drop in November.

"There were some early signs of green shoots in the final quarter" of 2013, Bernstein analyst Max Warburton said in a Jan. 13 research note. "But it's patchy and far from sufficient to rescue the industry." (Reporting by Andreas Cremer; Editing by John Stonestreet)

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