Europe's auto market has started to feel the pinch from the coronavirus outbreak, as dealerships closed, factories announced furloughs, and analysts cut sales and production forecasts.
Automakers canceled travel and events and encouraged employees to work from home.
In Italy, the center of the outbreak in Europe, sales fell by 8.8 percent in February. In the most affected regions, sales dropped 35 percent in the province of Lodi and 23 percent in Cremona. Sales in the Milan area declined 17 percent.
Through the first two weeks of March, new-vehicle registrations in Italy were running about 20 percent below the same period last year, industry sources told Automotive News Europe. Roughly 26,000 vehicles were registered by Thursday, March 12, compared with more than 32,700 in the same period last year, the sources said.
Italian import association UNRAE predicted that annual sales could fall by 20 percent. IHS Markit was predicting a decline of 14 percent in light-vehicle sales in Italy. Sales in 2019 rose by 0.9 percent to 1.91 million.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said last week that it was temporarily halting production at four of its Italian factories. Lamborghini closed its sole factory, near Bologna, on March 13 and will reopen it March 25. Ferrari said it had reduced its work force but was not yet expecting production to be disrupted.
VW's Spanish brand, Seat, was considering temporary layoffs at its factory near Barcelona. PSA Group said it was stepping up precautions at its factory in Mulhouse, France, after an employee tested positive, and Jaguar Land Rover said it quarantined a worker at one of its U.K. facilities. Renault said it was asking employees who could work from home to do so.
Analyst firm ISI Evercore revised downward its European sales forecast, to a decline of 5 to 8 percent for the year, from a drop of 3 to 5 percent. Sales in 2019 were 15.3 million.
Forecasters at LMC Automotive said that European sales could fall by 4 percent, and also revised their estimate for global light-vehicle sales downward by 4 percent this year, or 3.7 million cars, to 86.4 million, the lowest level since 2013. LMC added that supply chain disruptions related to the virus could increase production costs.
Automakers also worried about supply chain disruptions, from China and from within Europe. Pirelli said it was cutting production at its plant in Turin, and brake producer Brembo warned of disruptions in northern Italy.
Stuart Rowley, president of Ford of Europe, told Automotive News Europe that the threat of border closures within Europe could have an immediate effect on production.
"Let's say the border closes between Italy and Austria," he said. "That can hit you in hours. A part from China is probably on a boat. So at least you've got the pipeline on the boat and then you can start air freighting."
Following the cancellation of the Geneva auto show this month, other major events have also been canceled or postponed. Among them are Europe's largest dealer gathering, Automotive Dealer Day in Verona, Italy, which was moved from to Sept. 15-17 from May 19-21, and the World Shopper mobility congress in Estoril, Portugal, moved to Oct. 19-20 from May 5-6.
A number of automakers announced that financial results conferences would be web-only, including VW Group, VW brand, Audi, Porsche and BMW. And Daimler AG postponed its annual shareholder meeting, which had been scheduled for April 1.
Luca Ciferri, Nick Gibbs and Christiaan Hetzner contributed to this report.