October was a pretty solid new-car sales month across Europe, with good news for just about everybody.
Every major manufacturer except Kia gained volume over October 2006, and Kia missed breakeven by only seven units. Volkswagen AG led the field, selling 267,165 units in October, a 1.6 percent year-over-year increase.
By individual markets, 23 of 28 countries posted sales increases, including 14 with double-digit gains. Overall sales rose 5.5 percent to 1.3 million in October, according to ACEA, the European automakers association.
For a change, even western European sales rose. In the first nine months, only booming sales in smaller central European markets have kept total European sales from declining. But with October sales, western Europe's year-to-date sales crept 0.3 percent ahead of last year.
Analysts are unenthusiastic, though, noting that even modest gains are forcing automakers to discount heavily.
"It's a blip," said analyst Peter Schmidt, a principal of AID Ltd. in Warwick, England. "The underlying market is dismal, and dealers and automakers have to discount heavily to keep sales levels up."
Consumer confidence is falling in western Europe because of global fallout from the U.S. subprime-lending crisis, said Matthew Pottle, of PricewaterhouseCoopers Automotive Institute in Bratislava, Slovakia.
"There are big black clouds on the horizon for western Europe. It has to affect consumer purchase intent," Pottle said.
"Central Europe remains buoyant, but even here the markets have become more brutal. Price competition is fierce and everybody's margins are under pressure."