European auto sales hit new low
FRANKFURT, Germany- AP

European Union car sales are still sagging despite the return of modest economic growth.

For the first eight months of the year, passenger car sales were off 5.2 percent to 7.84 million compared with the same period last year, the European Auto Manufacturers’ Association said Tuesday. That’s the lowest January-August figure since the group started keeping track in 1990.

New car registrations in August fell 5 percent from a year ago to 653,872, the association said.

The economy in the 28-country EU grew 0.4 percent in the second quarter, ending a recession. But the unemployment rate remains high at 11.0 percent, making many consumers unable or afraid to buy a new car. Countries hit by the eurozone debt crisis, such as Greece and Spain, face even higher jobless rates that have hurt sales of moderately priced vehicles especially hard. Luxury carmakers are doing better.

The August downturn was distributed across Europe’s biggest markets. Germany was a 5.5 percent drop, despite a stronger economy than in other members of the 17-county eurozone. Registrations fell 10.5 percent in France, 18.3 percent in Spain, and 6.6 percent in Italy.

Britain’s was the only major market to expand, rising 10.5 percent.

Among the major carmakers, Germany’s Volkswagen Group was off 11.2 percent in August while France’s PSA Peugeot Citroen slipped 17.3 percent. Renault Group rose 6.0 percent and General Motors was up 0.5 percent — as a large jump in sales of Chevrolet-branded vehicles made up for a 3.4 percent fall in sales of its main European Opel and Vauxhall brands. Ford was off 1.5 percent.

Luxury brands did better. Daimler’s Mercedes was up 8.9 percent, excluding its compact Smart city car, and BMW AG rose 9.5 percent, excluding its Mini brand. However, VW’s Audi luxury brand, a chief competitor for Mercedes and BMW, was off 5.6 percent.

The biggest market share over the first eight months remained with Volkswagen Group, including the company’s other brands such as Audi, Seat and Skoda, with 24.9 percent, up slightly from 24.8 percent.

The auto association also issued figures for July, which showed a 5 percent increase over the previous year. July had one more working day than the previous July, while August had one less. In July, the only major market to shrink was Italy, which was down 1.6 percent.

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