* 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, Spain and Italy last month, data showed on Friday,
leaving little hope of a European auto market rebound anytime
Volkswagen and U.S. carmakers led a 15 percent
drop in French registrations to their lowest January level since
1997. Italian sales dropped 17.6 percent, while Spain was
limited to a single-digit contraction due to renewed subsidies.
"The French passenger car market started 2013 on as weak a
note as it exited 2012," analyst David Arnold at Credit Suisse
said in a note.
Falling sales across Europe suggest manufacturers will have
to cut vehicle output by a further 7 percent this year, Arnold
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 hit a 17-year low, as austerity-squeezed household budgets
and rising unemployment discouraged big
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 companies, said
In Germany, where growth turned negative last May, car sales
figures to be released on Monday are expected to show a further
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 Volkswagen group recorded a 23.9 percent drop in French
car sales, a decline accentuated by its strong sales performance
at the start of 2012.
The Americans also fared poorly in France, with combined
registrations by General Motors' Chevrolet and
Opel/Vauxhall brands dropping 21.2 percent.
In all three markets, Ford sales fell by one-third or
more, while South Korea's Hyundai and affiliate Kia
bucked the slump with sizeable gains on the back of
a series of competitive new models.
VW, Peugeot and Toyota lost ground in Italy, where
incumbent Fiat's resisted January's market contraction
with a more modest 9.3 percent decline.
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
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.