European car sales fell 5 percent to 653,872 units in August -- the lowest level since records began in 1990.
Despite the euro-zone slump that is keeping customers out of showrooms, General Motors' sales rose half a percentage point as an 18 percent gain by Chevrolet more than offset a 3 percent decline at the Opel/Vauxhall division.
Ford's European sales decreased 1.5 percent last month. Ford of Europe CEO Stephen Odell said on Sept. 9 that "it does feel like we're running along the bottom" of the auto market contraction.
Registrations in the EU and EFTA countries dropped to 686,957 vehicles from 722,458 a year earlier, industry association ACEA said today in a statement. The decline contrasted with 5 percent growth in July.
"We're still in red territory," Florent Couvreur, a Paris-based analyst at CM-CIC Securities, said. "When people say we've reached the bottom, I say, 'watch out,' because the market is still decreasing. The drop is a little less steep, but we're still falling because of the bad macroeconomic environment."
European sales by Volkswagen Group, the region's largest carmaker, fell 11 percent last month, dragged down by a 17 percent plunge at the namesake VW brand. The Audi division sold 6 percent fewer cars in Europe. Skoda and Seat brand sales declined by 5 percent and 3 percent respectively.
PSA, Europe's second-biggest carmaker, posted an 18 percent sales drop in August that eroded its market share to 11 percent for the first eight months, down almost a percentage point year-on-year. CEO Philippe Varin forecast at the Frankfurt show on Sept. 10 that there will be "slightly positive growth" in European auto-industry deliveries next year.
Renault outperformed other mass-market carmakers. Its Europe sales were up 6 percent in August, led by 16 percent growth at Dacia. Renault brand sales rose 2 percent. Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn said last week that the car market may expand slightly more than 1 percent in 2014.
Fiat's European registrations slipped 5 percent in line with overall demand.
BMW posted 10 percent more registrations in Europe. Daimler sales rose 6 percent as the Mercedes-Benz division reported an 9 percent gain, versus a 24 percent plunge in demand for two-seat Smart cars
European registrations by Toyota Motor dropped 4 percent in August.
Hyundai's European sales declined 5 percent, while sister brand Kia's registrations dropped by 4 percent. Hyundai-Kia have limited their sales decline this year to 1 percent, resisting the worst of the slump.
"What we're seeing right now in the European car industry is a squeezed middle," Allan Rushforth, head of Hyundai's European operations, said. "German premium brands are coming down through the market while Hyundai is moving up through the segments, making life very difficult for those European volume brands rooted in the mainstream."
The European car market rose 5 percent in July to 1.02 million vehicles. The gain was the second this year, following a 2 percent increase in April that marked the first growth in European car sales in 19 months. ACEA releases July and August sales figures simultaneously each September.
Registrations in the past two months were affected by differences in the number of business days versus 2012, with one more in July and one less in August, ACEA said today. Figures for both August and the year to date were the lowest since the trade group started compiling numbers 23 years ago, Economics and Statistics Director Quynh-Nhu Huynh said.
Four of Europe's five biggest automotive markets shrank last month. Deliveries in top-ranked Germany dropped 6 percent. That compared with a 2 percent increase in July. The UK market, the region's second biggest, expanded 11 percent in August. French sales were down 2 percent while registrations fell 6 percent in Italy and 18 percent in Spain.
European Central Bank executive board member Yves Mersch said in Dubai on Monday that the European region is seeing "tentative green shoots" of economic recovery. ECB President Mario Draghi said that while the euro area's return to growth in the second quarter is "welcome," any recovery is "only in its infancy."
The economy of the 17 countries using the euro emerged from a record six-quarter recession in the three months through June. Aftereffects such as a jobless rate in the area that held at 12.1 percent in July led auto-industry executives at the Frankfurt auto show a week ago to stick to predictions of a sixth consecutive annual car-market contraction in 2013.
Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report