* European car sales rise for third month
* Year-to-date decline smaller than feared
* Renault, Toyota, VW lead advance
By Laurence Frost
PARIS, Dec 16 Renault, Toyota
and Volkswagen led a 0.9 percent November gain in
European car sales, according to industry data published on
Tuesday, pulling ahead of Fiat, General Motors
and Ford in a slowly recovering market.
Registrations in the European Union and European Free Trade
Association trading bloc rose to 975,281 from 966,421 a year
earlier, their third straight monthly gain, the Association of
European Carmakers said.
As the European market nears the end of a sixth consecutive
year of decline, industry leaders such as Renault Chief
Executive Carlos Ghosn are hopeful the region can return, at
least, to modest single-digit growth in 2014.
The gradual turnaround will do little to relieve the
pressure of excess production capacity that has continued to
weigh on European operations, fueling a profit-sapping price war
of unusual ferocity.
The data "confirms what manufacturers and suppliers have
indicated during third-quarter earnings - that the European auto
market has stabilised", Citi analyst Philip Watkins said.
"Renault was the standout for the second consecutive month,"
he added in a note to investors.
Volkswagen and Renault posted respective increases of 0.8
percent and 2.6 percent for their namesake mid-market brands,
and bigger gains in lower-cost cars that helped group sales to
rise 3.2 percent and 8.9 percent.
The German carmaker, Europe's No. 1 by volume, recorded an
18 percent increase at its no-frills Skoda division. Low-cost
Renault models, such as the Dacia Duster sport utility vehicle,
(SUV) surged 30 percent. Toyota registrations rose 6.9 percent.
BETTER THAN EXPECTED
November's registrations gain pared the region's
year-to-date decline to 2.8 percent - a more modest fall than
many in the industry had feared earlier in the year.
In March, GM's Opel was braced for a further 10 percent
European market contraction and Morgan Stanley cut its
outlook to predict a 6 percent slump.
But automakers that lack new models or a low-cost offering
are still suffering.
Sales by Italy's Fiat tumbled 5.8 percent across the market
of 30 European states as demand for its ageing model line-up
fades, leading to an 8 percent contraction so far this year.
Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne has delayed multibillion-euro
factory investments for long-promised expansions of the upmarket
Maserati and Alfa Romeo brands while pursuing a bitter buyout
dispute with its 58.5 percent-owned Chrysler division's minority
GM sales dropped 3.8 percent as both main brands fell. The
U.S. carmaker is withdrawing the underperforming Chevrolet badge
from Europe to focus on reviving mid-market Opel.
Loss-making French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen
recorded a 1.2 percent drop in registrations despite recent
model launches, such as its 2008 mini-SUV.
Ford also retreated 2.9 percent. In a move designed to lift
its brand and margins ahead of a coming model offensive, Ford is
cutting back on unprofitable sales to rental companies as well
as heavily marked-down vehicles sold as nearly new.
The company expects western Europe to return to growth in
2014 after bottoming out this year, Ford of Europe CEO Stephen
Odell said last month.