Volkswagen AG and Fiat Group were the biggest winners among major players in the European auto market in February. Renault SA, Ford Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co. and the previously hot Korean automakers were the biggest losers.
The figures show a continuing pattern of shifting fortunes in Europe this year. Previously hot companies have cooled off considerably, according to the latest sales data from ACEA, the European carmakers association.
John Lawson, an analyst for Citigroup in London, says the market has performed better than many analysts expected. But he urges caution.
"Although the year has started a bit better than expected, it's still not time to take an eraser to the forecast," he says. "We are still predicting a 1.1 percent increase," from 14.5 million passenger cars to 14.7 million for 2007.
Fiat Group, which includes the Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia brands, grew 11.5 percent to 95,013 units for the month. "Fiat is benefiting from the full availability of the Grande Punto," wrote Adam Jonas, an analyst for Morgan Stanley in London, in a report. "This appears to be the group's highest monthly market share since February 2002."
CEO Carlos Ghosn is trying to wean Renault from heavy use of incentives even though it is causing short-term pain. Renault Group sales dropped 5.7 percent to 101,230 for February.
"Mr. Ghosn is finding that way of selling cars particularly abhorrent to his value-creating mind-set," Citigroup's Lawson said.
Ghosn outlined the new Renault policy at the company's February press conference in Paris, saying the company's sales decreases "can be explained mainly by the implementation of a sales policy that is less inclined to use incentives to a point where they damage our brand image and destroy profits."
The Koreans, who have been Europe's fastest rising new entrants, have gone into the slow lane. Hyundai dropped 4.4 percent for February to 22,371 units. Kia was down 2.1 percent to 13,586 units.
Ford was also a loser. Among Ford brands, only Land Rover was up for the month -- 14.0 percent to 4,138 units. Jaguar and Volvo suffered double-digit declines -- 19.7 percent for Jaguar and 12.0 percent for Volvo. The Ford brand was off 2.6 percent.
VW is riding a wave of new products to recovery. All VW volume brands except Audi (down 0.3 percent) grew during February. The VW brand itself paced the group, up 15.2 percent to 108,553 units.
The VW Group market share grew from 17.9 percent a year ago to 19.1 percent in February this year.
Saab led General Motors with a 37.5 percent sales increase to 5,743 units, while Chevrolet grew by 9.6 percent to 13,290 units. But GM's core European brands, Opel/Vauxhall, dropped 3.6 percent to 89,844 units.
In the German luxury wars, BMW Group and DaimlerChrysler showed modest gains. DaimlerChrysler was up 1.9 percent for the month, dragged down by Smart, which lost 26.9 percent.
Mercedes-Benz sales were up 7 percent, and Chrysler sales rose 21 percent .
Like DaimlerChrysler, BMW Group was hampered by a decline in the sales of its smallest cars. Mini dropped 13.5 percent for the month and is off 19.2 percent for the year. The BMW brand itself continued to grow, up 3.9 percent to 44,419 units.
Among Japanese automakers, Nissan brand sales fell 15.6 percent to 20,494, while Suzuki shot up 23.3 percent to 19,765 units. Toyota Motor sales rose 5.5 percent to 59,320 units.
You may e-mail Bradford Wernle at [email protected]