FRANKFURT - Car sales in western Europe fell sharply last month due to the timing of the Easter holiday and weak demand in Italy after an incentives scheme there ended, forecaster JD-Power LMC said on Wednesday. The UK-based organization said consumers in western Europe bought 6.6 percent fewer cars in April from a year ago, bringing sales for the year so far to 5.065 million units, down 3.8 percent from the same period last year.
"I am skeptical about any large Iraq war impact on these numbers," said JD-Power analyst Charles Young.
"The results, which are in line with the previous months, simply reflect the deterioration of economic prospects in the regions which have yet to feel the beneficial impact of the fall in oil prices." Sales have been affected by weak economic conditions and subdued consumer sentiment this year, and most industry experts forecast a fall of at least 2 percent this year. Weak demand hits profits at European carmakers including Volkswagen, which said earlier lower sales in Europe was one reason for a 67 fall in first quarter pretax profits.
The timing of the Easter holiday, which fell entirely in April this year, distorted the April figures, JD-Power said.
French sales had another dismal showing last month and Germany, Europe's biggest car market, continued its weak run.
Italian sales suffered from a hangover effect from the end of an incentives scheme at the end of March. JD-Power also said a low order intake in April suggested lean times ahead in Italy, home to loss-making Fiat.