* Spain, Portugal, Ireland sales growth in double digits
* Toyota, GM, Ford, Renault lead February's increase
* French auto sales dip 1.4 pct; Germany's underperform
By Agnieszka Flak
MILAN, March 18 European car sales rose 7.6
percent in February, as a gradual economic recovery in Portugal,
Spain and Italy boosted demand for mass-market brands, industry
data showed on Tuesday.
New passenger-car registrations in the European Union and
European Free Trade Association trading bloc rose for the sixth
straight month to 894,730 vehicles in February from 831,371 in
February a year ago, according to data from the Association of
European Carmakers (ACEA).
Europe's car industry endured a six-year slump, with auto
sales falling to a two-decade low, as austerity-hit consumers
cut back on expensive purchases. Now the market is starting to
"As the year progresses, we would expect the car market
continuing to pick up because the economy is starting to move in
the right direction," said Jonathon Poskitt, head of European
forecasting for LMC Automotive. Selling rates in western Europe
clawed their way back to mid-2012 levels, he said.
"People are going to feel more confident to make that
big-ticket purchase, such as a car, that they've been holding
off on because of the concerns over their employment prospects
and their income," he said.
At the Geneva auto show earlier this month, executives said
they were encouraged by the recovery in crisis-hit European
countries, although they were worried that volatile emerging
markets could overshadow the gains.
Registrations in Germany, the top car market, underperformed
the regional trend, with a 4.3 percent increase, and fell by 1.4
percent in Europe's second-biggest car market, France. But sales
grew by double digits in some states most hit by the crisis.
Sales grew 17.8 percent in Spain, 40.2 percent in Portugal
and 20.6 percent in Ireland, signalling that a fragile recovery
in the region was gaining strength. In Italy, the region's
fourth-biggest market, sales grew 8.6 percent as the country
recovers from its longest recession in 70 years.
"We keep forecasting an ongoing improvement of the
underlying sales trend," ISI Group said in a note. "In addition,
we keep highlighting improved vehicle pricing in tandem with
better residual values and sales channel mix."
Sales at Renault Group jumped 11.5 percent,
boosted mainly by a 33.6 percent surge in registrations of its
no-frills Dacia brand. Ford sales were up 11.3 percent.
Toyota Group, the world's biggest-selling car maker,
posted a 14 percent increase, and General Motors saw
sales go up 12.3 percent, boosted by a 15.6 percent increase in
registrations of its Opel- and Vauxhall-branded vehicles.
Germany's Volkswagen group, Europe's biggest
carmaker by volume, posted a 7.2 percent rise, helped by a 21.5
increase at its value brand Skoda, a 15.7 percent jump in Seat
sales and an 11.8 percent gain at its premium brand, Audi. VW's
performance was weighed down by a 0.8 percent decline in sales
at its namesake brand.
French carmaker PSA lost some market share in
February. Its overall sales grew 3.5 percent, supported by an
increase in registrations of its Peugeot brand, but sales of
Citroen-branded cars were roughly flat year-on-year.
The long-awaited revival of the European market seems to be
on track, with almost all countries and manufacturers performing
better. But industry players urge caution, pointing out the gain
comes from historic lows. In Italy, for example, car sales are
recovering from levels last seen in the 1970s.
"Sales have effectively been growing, but discounting
practices have been following a very similar path, it seems,"
Carlos Da Silva, an analyst with market researchers IHS
Automotive, said in a note. "This would tend to indicate that
the overall situation remains more tense than it might appear."