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Europe car sales up for 3rd month in row, area 'slowly stabilizing'

MILAN (Bloomberg) -- European new-car sales rose a third consecutive month in November, the longest period of gains in four years, as demand for autos from Volkswagen and Renault contributed to signs that an industrywide decline is ending.

Registrations in the EU and EFTA markets increased 0.9 percent in November to 975,281 vehicles from 966,421 a year earlier, industry association ACEA said today in a statement.

The growth followed gains of 4.6 percent in October and 5.5 percent in September.

The economy of the 17 nations sharing the euro will probably expand this quarter, continuing growth after a six- quarter recession in the region ended in the three months through June, according to analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

New vehicles boosting car sales in Europe include the Golf hatchback and Skoda Rapid Spaceback wagon at Volkswagen, the region's biggest carmaker, and the Captur compact crossover at Renault.

"I hope and think" Europe's car market has hit bottom as "it's slowly stabilizing," Alfredo Altavilla, chief operating officer of Fiat's European operations, told reporters on Monday in Milan. "Talking about recovery is another story."

The regional auto market is still on track for a sixth straight annual decline, as 11-month registrations fell 2.8 percent to 11.4 million cars.

Low demand

Even with the three-month gain, the longest stretch of growth since the period from June 2009 to March 2010, sales remain close to the lowest since the ACEA began compiling figures in 1990, said Quynh-Nhu Huynh, the trade group's economics and statistics director.

Except for November, when figures were the third-worst for the month, "registrations recorded for every month this year were at the lowest level or second-lowest ever recorded to date," she said in an e-mail.

Among Europe's five biggest car markets, demand increased 15 percent last month in Spain, which ranks fifth in the region, and 7 percent in the U.K., which places second.

The Spanish government revived a cash-for-clunkers incentive program in October to boost car sales. Registrations dropped in Germany, France and Italy.

"We do not expect a sharp European demand recovery," Harald Hendrikse, an analyst at Nomura in London, wrote in a report to clients Dec. 12. "Our analysis of individual European markets suggests that the good economies have little upside to car sales, whereas those with upside do not have good economies."

Main growth

The only large European carmakers to post group sales increases in the region last month were Volkswagen and Renault.

VW's registrations in Europe rose 3.2 percent in November, with gains of 0.8 percent at the namesake brand, 9.4 percent at the Seat marque and 18 percent at the Skoda nameplate. The Audi division posted a 3.2 percent decline.

Renault increased European sales 8.9 percent, including a 2.6 percent gain at its main brand and a 30 percent surge at the entry-level Dacia division, whose offerings include a new version of the Sandero hatchback.

November European car sales rose at Japanese producers Toyota, which posted a 6.9 percent gain propelled by a 31 percent jump at the Lexus premium unit; Suzuki, with a 16 percent increase; Mazda with a 31 percent boost; and Mitsubishi, with a 55 percent surge. Registrations were unchanged at Nissan.

European sales increased 1.3 percent at Jaguar Land Rover and 7.6 percent at Volvo Cars.

PSA/Peugeot-Citroen's European sales fell 1.2 percent last month, as a 4.3 percent drop at the Citroen division overwhelmed a 1.3 percent gain at the Peugeot brand.

Download PDF (above right) for European sales for November and 11 months by automaker, brand and country.

General Motors Co. sold 3.8 percent fewer cars in Europe in November, with its regional Opel and Vauxhall divisions posting a 3.1 percent decline and the Chevrolet brand reporting an 8.3 percent drop.

GM is pulling Chevrolet out of Europe by the end of 2015 to devote resources to restoring profit at German producer Opel and U.K. unit Vauxhall, GM said on Dec. 5. A week later, GM sold its 7 percent stake in Paris-based Peugeot as the manufacturers scaled back an alliance amid the French company's strategy shifts, which include deepening a partnership with Chinese producer Dongfeng Motor Corp.

Fiat falls

Fiat's European sales fell 5.8 percent, with drops of 3.5 percent at the namesake brand, 19 percent at the Alfa Romeo division and 14 percent for Lancia and Chrysler models.

Fiat plans to invest as much as 9 billion euros ($12.4 billion) on new models to end European losses in three years and revive its nearly empty Italian factories, two people familiar with the matter said last week. In addition to bolstering the upscale Maserati and Alfa Romeo marques with new "Made in Italy" vehicles, the carmaker will focus the Fiat line on variants of the trendy 500 subcompact and the budget-oriented Panda small car, ditching a former best seller, said the people.

European sales at Daimler declined 1.6 percent as deliveries at the Mercedes-Benz brand, the world's third-biggest maker of luxury vehicles, dropped 3.1 percent.

BMW, the global premium-car market leader, sold 7 percent fewer cars in Europe.

Sales by Hyundai brand fell 7.8 percent. The Seoul-based carmaker is targeting delivery gains in Europe next year as a new version of the i10 small car adds to the effects of an industrywide revival, Allan Rushforth, head of the company's business in the region, said a week ago, citing "a number of new opportunities" for 2014.

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