European car sales fall to 20-year low on unemployment

European car sales fell to a 20-year low in May as record joblessness caused by a recession in the euro area reduced demand at PSA Peugeot Citroen, Renault SA, Fiat SpA and General Motors Co.

Registrations dropped 5.9% to 1.08 million vehicles from 1.15 million a year earlier, the Brussels-based European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, or ACEA, said today. The figure was the lowest for the month since 1993, said Quynh-Nhu Huynh, the group’s economics director. The ACEA compiles data for the 27-nation EU plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.

Peugeot, Renault, Fiat and GM’s deliveries fell at least 10% in the region last month as price cuts failed to attract buyers. European political leaders are seeking ways to revive a shrinking economy weighed down by the sovereign-debt crisis, with unemployment in the 17 countries using the euro reaching 12.2% in April.

“We have to wait at least five years until the car market will basically recover,” Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research at University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany. “That means that the debt crisis in southern Europe will deepen and last” for awhile.

Auto-industry executives are forecasting that the European car market will shrink a sixth consecutive year in 2013, with a possible recovery starting by the final quarter. Maxime Picat, head of the Peugeot brand, reiterated a prediction on May 22 that industry sales in Europe will fall 5% this year.

Record Recession

Group European registrations at Paris-based Peugeot, the region’s second-biggest carmaker, dropped 13% in May. Renault, based in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt, reported a 10% drop. European sales fell 11% at both GM and Turin, Italy-based Fiat.

The euro region’s six-quarter recession, the longest since the common currency was introduced in 1999, deepened in the first three months of the year as investment and exports plunged. The European Central Bank sees the currency bloc’s economy shrinking 0.6% this year.

Four of Europe’s five biggest automotive markets shrank in May. Deliveries in Germany dropped 9.9%, compared with an 3.8% increase in April. Sales declined 10% in France, 8% in Italy and 2.6% in Spain. Demand in the U.K. rose 11%.

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