MUNICH -- New-car sales plunged in Germany and France in January, offsetting solid gains in Italy, the UK and Spain.
In the 26 European countries montiored by ACEA, Europe's automakers association, sales fell 1.4 percent to 1.23 million units last month from January 2003. Normally Europe's largest market, Germany was No. 2 last month behind Italy with 208,000 sales, off 12.4 percent. France fell 11.9 percent to 154,000 vehicles from 175,000 a year ago.
Three of Europe's five biggest markets boosted sales last month. Italy gained 5.6 percent to 222,000 units. The UK rose 5 percent to 198,000. Spain was up 9.2 percent to 99,000. Fourteen other European countries also increased sales, but it was not enough to overcome the losses in Germany and France.
Sales in eight of the 10 countries that will join the European Union in May climbed a combined 3.5 percent to 62,000 units. ACEA is adding those new EU countries to its monthly reports starting this month (See tables, below). Data are not yet available for Malta and Cyprus, which also join the EU May 1. Data include 23 EU countries plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.
The eight new markets represent only 5 percent of January sales. But automakers like their potential for faster growth than the mature markets of western Europe.
Despite the downturn, all Asian automakers prospered. Japanese brand sales soared 20.1 percent to 165,000 units. Similarly, Korean brands Hyundai, Kia and GM Daewoo rose 20.9 percent to 43,000.
Traditional European brands mostly suffered, especially VW group, off 10.2 percent; GM group, down 11 percent; and PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, 8.6 percent lower.