European auto sales rose 6 percent in September, the fourth straight month of year-over-year improvement after a poor start. Sales through the first nine months remained down 7 percent.
Western Europe led the September rally. The original 15 European Union members saw sales rise 10 percent overall. Newer EU members in central Europe, where the recession has hit hardest, suffered a 36 percent drop. For the first nine months, vehicle sales in central Europe were down 29 percent.
Results varied by segment.
"It's very tough for luxury brands this year, and there's a real scramble for share at the bottom," says Nigel Griffiths, chief automotive economist for IHS Global Insight in London.
Daimler AG, BMW Group and premium brands owned by larger automakers fared worse than the industry through September, except for a 10 percent gain at tiny Alfa Romeo.
Among Europe's seven largest auto groups, only Toyota failed to record a gain in September, and its loss was marginal. The leading gainers were Ford, up 16 percent; Renault, 15 percent; and Fiat Group, 14 percent.
Through the first three quarters, several volume automakers outperformed the dismal market, although Fiat is the only one to post an actual increase in unit sales. The two major groups doing worse than the market are General Motors Co., down 13 percent, and Toyota, off 11 percent.
Among bargain brands, the leaders are Renault's Romanian brand, Dacia, up 25 percent this year, and South Korea's Hyundai, up 24 percent. Kia, Chevrolet and Suzuki are down marginally but are faring better than the industry overall.