FRANKFURT -- Truck sales in western Europe declined in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, hurt mainly by weak demand for vans, data published on Tuesday showed. Demand for commercial vehicles reflects broader economic trends, and European makers DaimlerChrysler, Volvo, Scania and MAN have suffered from a slump on both sides of the Atlantic in the last three years.
Most experts predict a gradual improvement in the European market this year if the fragile economic recovery continues, following an anticipated pick-up in the United States. Brussels-based carmaker association ACEA said commercial vehicles sales fell three percent in the fourth quarter of last year to 531,720 units, meaning sales fell 1.4 percent in 2003 from the previous year.
"This situation results essentially from the sluggish performance of the light commercial vehicle segment," said ACEA in a statement. Spain and Britain continued to outperform the region in the fourth quarter, posting increases of about 11 and 10 percent respectively. But Italy saw its commercial vehicles sales fall about 26 percent in the fourth quarter, said ACEA.
Most of Europe's truckmakers -- which have restructured in the last couple of years in a bid to offset falling demand -- have still to report 2003 earnings, but earlier this month Germany's MAN said it had seen good levels of incoming orders for commercial vehicles in December.