The European automobile market may be pulling out of its six year sales slump, according to Automotive News, with new car registrations in Germany up 7% in January from last year, joined by France, Italy and Spain reporting year to year increases for the month. German new car sales for the month were 206,000, the third monthly gain out of the past four months and the best monthly percentage improvement since September 2011. Analysts caution, though, that the growth in the German market was in part due to discounting.
However, industry executives and analysts warned that underlying demand may not be robust as Germany’s growth was in part attributable to generous price discounts. Ernst-Robert Nouvertne, who operates two Volkswagen stores near Cologne, said “Incentives are the name of the game. Headline sales are looking good but profit per car is crumbling. The (German) market is still pretty strained.”
For their part, the VDA trade association said that sales could have been even better but January 2014 had one less sales day than the same month in 2013. “It’s pleasant to see that the stabilization of the German market is continuing at the start of 2014 but we should remain only cautiously optimistic,” Matthias Wissmann, VDA president said. Wissmann noted that January’s increase was boosted by relatively poor sales last year. The VDA said that it expects new car registrations in Germany to rise to about 3 million vehicles this year from 2.95 million in 2013.
French new car sales were up slightly, 0.5% to 125,477 in January. The CCFA industry association forecast stable or slightly higher car sales in France this year.
Sales of new cars and light trucks in Italy were up 3% to 117,802, according to the government’s transport ministry. Industry groups, however, urged caution, attributing part of the increase to pent up demand as car owners finally replace older vehicles after putting off new car purchases while the financial crisis was ongoing. Automotive research group Centro Studi Promotor said in a statement, “In absolute terms, sales of passenger cars [in Italy] remain at levels last seen in the late 1970s.”
Sales of new cars were also up in Spain, +7.6% last month to 53,436 vehicles. Auto manufacturers’ association Anfac said that sales were improved by government subsidies to encourage scrapping old cars.