* French car market falls 15 pct in January
* Spanish market down 9.6 pct despite subsidies
* Italy sales due later Friday, German data Monday
By Laurence Frost
PARIS, Feb 1 Car sales extended their declines
in France and Spain last month, data showed on Friday, leaving
little hope of a European auto market rebound anytime soon.
Volkswagen and U.S. carmakers led a 15 percent
drop in French registrations to their lowest January level in 15
years, while renewed subsidies only just slowed Spain's market
contraction to single digits.
"The French passenger car market started 2013 on as weak a
note as it exited 2012," London-based Credit Suisse analyst
David Arnold said in a note.
Ongoing declines across Europe suggest manufacturers will
have to cut vehicle output by a further 7 percent this year, he
predicted - adding to excess capacity that is already inflicting
deep losses on volume brands.
European auto sales last year fell the most in two decades
to a 17-year low, as austerity-squeezed household budgets and
unemployment fears discourage big purchases.
Cautious hopes for a broader euro zone economic recovery
have yet to filter through to the car market.
Renault and Japanese affiliate Nissan are
not counting on a European recovery in the next three to four
years, Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of both, said this week.
In Germany, where growth turned negative last May, car sales
are expected to show a further monthly decline on Monday.
Renault's domestic registrations fell 7.4 percent, holding
up better than the market thanks to a 9.9 percent gain for its
low-cost Dacia brand, as scarce buyers gravitated to "crisis
cars" such as the no-frills Sandero compact and Duster SUV.
Struggling French rival PSA Peugeot Citroen, which
is cutting 8,000 French jobs to restore profitability in 2015,
saw sales plunge a further 16.7 percent at home.
Without the benefit of recent updates to the Renault Clio
and Peugeot 208 small car - Europe's December bestseller in the
category - the numbers would have been even grimmer.
"Demand is still very weak for small and medium-sized cars
and minivans," said Francois Roudier of the CCFA industry
The Americans fared worse. Combined French registrations by
General Motors' Chevrolet and Opel/Vauxhall brands
dropped 21.2 percent, and Ford sales plunged 35.3 percent.
The Volkswagen group also recorded a 23.9 percent drop in
French car sales, a decline accentuated by a strong sales
performance at the start of 2012.
In recession-hit Spain, where unemployment stands at 26
percent, monthly registrations fell 9.6 percent despite support
from sales subsidies of 2,000 euros ($2,700) per car
reintroduced in October by the government and industry.
Peugeot's Spanish tally shrank by more than one-third in
January, while the core VW brand fell one-fifth.
But a sales surge by Fiat's retro-styled 500 model
delivered a 14.7 percent gain for the Italian brand in Spain.
Renault Clio sales also doubled with the model update, helping
the French nameplate to a 5 percent increase overall.