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Fiat, Toyota lead European car sales gain in October

FRANKFURT -- New car sales in Europe rose 3.6 percent in October, the first advance in five months, as Fiat and Toyota continued to post double-digit gains, industry data showed today.

Nissan also snapped a slide this year with a month of solid sales versus a weak October 2005, while premium carmakers DaimlerChrysler and BMW saw group sales slip in a market swept up in a price war.

One more working day in most markets contributed to the rise in new car registrations to 1.21 million vehicles, bringing market growth in the first 10 months to just 0.4 percent.

"This year's result, although positively influenced by one extra working day with respect to October 2005 across the whole region, is a sign of recovery after four consecutive months of decline," Brussels-based carmakers group ACEA said.

Morgan Stanley said the core western European market looked set to miss the bank's 2006 target of 1.5 percent growth.

"With only two months left, 1 percent growth is the best that can be hoped for this year, in our view. A strong finish led by German VAT pull-forward would be required to achieve this," it said, referring to the three-point rise in value added tax to take effect in Europe's biggest car market in January.

Germany's HVB bank was more upbeat, noting that sputtering sales in late 2005 would flatter November and December figures.

"Given the advantageous basis of comparisons in the months ahead...the fourth quarter should be relatively good," it said.

High fuel prices and rising interest rates in some countries have cooled demand of late for new cars, which piles pressure on manufacturers to push sales via margin-eroding incentives, unless they have hot new products to drive showroom traffic.

Fiat has had a sales boon from its Grande Punto and Panda small cars plus the Alfa Romeo 159 sedan. Registrations for the Italian group advanced 16 percent, with a 17.8 percent increase at its core Fiat brand. Alfa Romeo sales gained 16.2 percent.

Toyota saw sales of its flagship Toyota brand rise 13.8 percent to over 66,000 units, while registrations of its premium brand Lexus advanced more than two-thirds to 2,835 cars.

Solid sales of the Toyota Aygo, Yaris and Corolla models have helped build its market share to nearly 6 percent this year.

Audi, Seat and Skoda nudged Volkswagen group registrations up 4 percent to more than 255,000 units, keeping it atop the European tables with a market share of 21.1 percent in October and of 20 percent so far this year.

Renault group sales dipped 2 percent. Sales of Renault brand vehicles alone contracted 2.8 percent as it focuses on profitable business, while sales at Dacia, maker of the no-frills Logan family car, swelled over 40 percent.

A robust French market in October helped sales at PSA/Peugeot-Citroen rise 7.1 percent, paced by the Peugeot brand thanks to its new 207 model.

BMW saw group registrations slip 3.9 percent as a slight gain at its core BMW brand was wiped out by declines at Mini, where output fell while it ramped up a new model for launch before year's end.

Asian carmakers had another mixed month.

Honda's sales advanced almost 14 percent, continuing its strong showing this year, and Mazda Motor Corp. showed a gain of 8.2 percent.

Sales at Kia Motors jumped 11 percent in October but were still down more than 10 percent for the year to date. Kia was the fastest-growing brand in Europe in 2005.

Sister brand Hyundai, which has scaled back its forecast for European sales growth given tough market conditions, saw sales fall 13.5 percent, taking its market share under 2 percent in October.

General Motors group sales gained 5.4 percent, helped by its entry-level Chevrolet brand and by Opel/Vauxhall, which has outsold the Renault brand in Europe so far this year.

Ford Motor Co. also outperformed the market with a 4.5 percent sales gain as the Ford brand and Volvo offset declines at premium marques Land Rover and Jaguar.

The ACEA data reflect registrations in all European Union countries except Malta and Cyprus and include Norway, Switzerland and Iceland.

Excluding the newest EU members, registrations rose 3.2 percent last month to 1.15 million vehicles.

Tags: Sales Europe

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