EU car sales continued growth trend in January

Passenger car registrations in the European Union continued to grow during January, according to the latest data released by ACEA. EU passenger car registrations grew 6.2 per cent year-on-year during January. In addition, in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) area – comprising Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland – registrations grew by 9.5 per cent year-on-year to 32,415 units.

At present, IHS Automotive analysts anticipate EU sales to reach almost 14 million units during 2016, a gain of around 2 per cent year-on-year. IHS signalled that its analysts may upgrade this in certain circumstances.

On a market-by-market basis, all of the top-five in the region have recorded gains in January. However, while Germany, France, and the United Kingdom saw relatively moderate improvements, with gains behind that seen by the region as a whole, the Spanish and Italian markets, which are continuing to recover from the depths that they hit during the height of the economic crisis, recorded far stronger improvements. However, data from their respective local associations have shown that the types of customer underpinning this were different, with Spain benefiting from company car and rental demand for the forthcoming holiday season, and a large part of the improvement in Italy stemming from private consumers returning to the market, attracted by dealers’ incentives.

Outside this group, strong gains have also been recorded in some markets. Ireland, Portugal, and a host of markets in Central Europe are continuing to record improvements following the Eurozone economic downturn and the low base of comparison. However, the Netherlands has seen a relatively heavy decline of 14.4 per cent year-on-year as it was hit by a tax change that has taken place in the market.

From an OEM perspective, the Volkswagen (VW) Group saw a relatively marginal improvement in the EU this month with an increase of 0.8 per cent year-on-year, although it remained easily the largest automaker at 256,989 units. Its performance was dragged down by the VW brand, which slid by 3.8 per cent year-on-year to 124,149 units. Nevertheless, a 13.7 per cent year-on-year surge recorded by Audi has helped matters.

While the gain in January comes as no surprise, the weaker rate at which this is taking place is nothing to be concerned about, according to Carlos Da Silva, manager of IHS Automotive’s European light-vehicle sales forecast. He notes that one of the reasons for this is the negative calendar effect in many markets where one fewer day was recorded compared to January 2015. In addition, the fourth quarter of 2015 was particularly strong, which may have distorted comparisons. Indeed, it should be noted that, for many countries, January 2015’s results were simply among the best for the month of January since 2008.

Da Silva says that the European market’s recovery continues to be driven by two factors. One is mostly evident in the southern European markets, which suffered immensely during the crisis and are now in “catch-up” mode. In these markets, private demand is proving strong as customers are finally getting around to renewing older cars, while corporate demand is showing signs of take-off. The second factor is mostly witnessed in the northern European markets. Comparatively, these have been faring better for a longer time and as such are not posting such impressive growth rates. Additionally, they are currently mostly supported by the fleet component of the market. Indeed, given the improving macroeconomic and confidence conditions, companies are now ready to replace their vehicles. However, on another level, the rate at which rental, dealer, and OEM self-registered cars are increasing does not seem to be showing any signs of abatement either. cja

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