European car sales in first rise for 18 months

Citroen C3 on the assembly line Peugeot Citroen is one manufacturer whose small car sales have suffered

New car sales across Europe rose in April for the first time in 18 months, helped by strong demand in the UK and by the early Easter break.

Registrations rose 1.8% to 1.08 million in April, compared with a year ago. The last rise was in September 2011, said the industry association, ACEA.

While the figure was an improvement on last year, it was the third lowest total for April on record.

However, UK sales were 15% higher and were the best for April in five years.

Without the UK figures, registrations would have recorded another fall.

Seasonal factors, in that most of Europe had two more selling days last month thanks to the Easter holiday falling in March this year, also flattered the figures.

Downturn

Demand for new cars across Europe fell to a 17-year low last year, with most economies weak, or in recession, and unemployment hitting record highs.

For the first four months of the year, overall volumes were down 7%, compared with the same period a year ago.

Car manufacturers have seen sales of their smaller, mass-market models fall off, with lower income buyers unable to afford new cars in the economic downturn.

Peugeot Citroen saw both of its main brands lose sales, with Peugeot sales falling 7.5% and Citroen down 13%.

Fiat saw sales fall 4%, but its Alfa Romeo brand saw sales collapse by a third.

Seat, which is owned by Volkswagen, saw sales jump by 35%. Most of Seat's sales are in Spain, a country that saw car sales rise 10.8% despite the torpid state of its economy.

Regionally, results varied widely across markets.

As well as strong growth in the UK and Spain, Germany's sales rose by 3.8%. But in France sales fell by 5.3% and Italy saw a drop of 10.8% in registrations.

"We are pleased to see a rise in European new car registrations in April after such a long period of depressed demand," said Mike Baunton, SMMT Interim Chief Executive.

"We note it is only a small increase with year-to-date figures still lower than last year, but it is certainly very welcome as half of all UK vehicle exports go to the continent.

"Here in the UK, the picture has been positive for some time with confident consumers attracted to dealerships by new, innovative, fuel-efficient vehicles and affordable finance deals.

"The UK new car market has grown for 14 consecutive months and in April, registrations recorded their best performance since 2008."

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