* January registrations fall to 918,280 new cars
* Slowest January since association's records began in 1990
* Hopes of H2 earnings recovery misplaced -analysts
By Laurence Frost
PARIS, Feb 19 Ford, PSA Peugeot Citroen
and Toyota led European car sales to a new
low in January, kicking off 2013 with an 8.5 percent decline,
the Association of European Automakers said on Tuesday.
Registrations fell to 918,280 new cars, the Brussels-based
industry body said in a statement, the slowest January since its
records began in 1990, as austerity measures and unemployment
hit consumer spending.
Ford, which is cutting back its European production capacity
with three plant closures to stem regional losses, recorded a 26
percent sales plunge to 61,544 cars. Peugeot and Toyota posted
the next biggest declines among major automakers, dropping 16
The slide "confirms a weak start to 2013", Credit Suisse
analysts said in a note. "Hopes of an earnings and cash recovery
in the second half are misplaced."
After falling to a 17-year low in 2012, European car demand
is expected to contract further this year, squeezing mass-market
brands still harder between excess capacity and cut-throat
pricing. Most carmakers see the regional market shrinking
between 3 and 5 percent in 2013.
Tentative hints of a broader euro zone economic upturn have
yet to percolate to the car industry.
Germany in particular is weighing on the outlook. After
resisting much of last year's slump, Europe's biggest car market
is in sharp decline, extended by an 8.6 percent drop in January.
Despite weak demand at home, Volkswagen
increased its share of European sales. Its registrations fell
5.5 percent, a more modest decline than the market's, as the
premium Audi nameplate fell just 2.1 percent.
Its two German luxury rivals proved even more resilient,
with BMW brand sales rising 9.4 percent and Daimler's
Mercedes-Benz gaining 4.7 percent.
Sales by Renault's low-cost Dacia brand rose 8.5
percent, limiting the group's overall decline to 6.1 percent.
The troubled Renault brand saw domestic orders rebound 12
percent last month, according to a dealership survey by La
Overall French orders fell 3.5 percent, the trade
publication said, in a sign that registrations may stabilise in
the coming months after a 15 percent January slide.
South Korea's Kia also fared well, with
registrations surging 7.7 percent, while affiliate Hyundai's
sales fell just 2.2 percent.
Italy's Fiat posted a 12.4 percent sales decline,
despite a more modest 4 percent drop for the Italian carmaker's
The upscale Alfa Romeo marque, upon which Fiat chief Sergio
Marchionne is pinning the group's recovery strategy, saw its
European sales collapse 37 percent.