LONDON - New-vehicle sales in Western Europe fell 8.7 percent in February, sparking fear that Europe could be following the Japanese and U.S. markets into a slowdown.
Nearly 1.1 million vehicles were sold. It was the ninth consecutive monthly decline for Europe.
'There's a chance that the car data is trying to tell us something about the economy and consumer confidence in general,' said John Lawson, auto analyst at Schroeder Salomon Smith Barney in London. 'In which case, you will have more to worry about than the car sector.'
Charles Young, director of research at J.D. Power-LMC Automotive Forecasting Services, said that after a weak January, 'there is still no convincing sign that the downward trend in the selling rate has been reversed.'
But Lawson said there's no need to panic.
'It's premature to assume that this is going to be much worse than a relatively flat year.'
Sales in Western Europe hit a record high of 15.1 million in 1999, but they dropped 2.2 percent last year. January's volume was down 0.5 percent.
The last time the European market rose was in May.
Most makes saw sales fall in February. The only exceptions were Audi, Skoda, Volvo, Nissan, BMW and Alfa Romeo.
Renault suffered a sharp 14.1 percent decline.
'Sales of Renault's three core products - the Clio, Megane and Scenic - are all coming under competitive pressure because they are at the natural end of the cycle,' said Jim Wright, auto analyst at Lehman Brothers.
Elsewhere, sales at the Volkswagen Group fell 8.8 percent. Volkswagen Group sales include VW, Audi, Seat and Skoda.
Although Alfa Romeo rose thanks to the popularity of its new 147 compact hatchback, declines at the Fiat and Lancia brands pulled Fiat group sales down 6.3.
Most Asian makes also suffered. Mitsubishi's volume dropped 32.3 percent; Honda 31.4 percent; and Mazda 26.7 percent. Hyundai registrations dropped 21.6 percent.