The European auto market fell into negative territory in the first half for the first time since 2014, with vehicle sales declining by 3.1 percent to 8,183,562, according to industry association ACEA. The best-performing brands were Lancia, Mitsubishi, Lexus, Dacia and Citroen.
One reason for the decline was the introduction in the European Union last year of the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure, or WLTP. All vehicles needed to be certified by Sept. 1, 2018, so automakers pushed sales of noncompliant vehicles ahead of that deadline. As a result of that sales surge, which started in late spring 2018, gains in the first half of this year were harder to achieve, analysts said.
"Year-over-year comparisons will remain challenging for the rest of the summer, because purchases were pulled forward ahead of the implementation of WLTP," LMC Automotive said in July.
For perspective, June registrations in 2018 set an all-time high for the month with the market up 5.2 percent, according to ACEA. In June this year sales were down 7.8 percent.
Some volume automakers have increased their market share significantly so far this year, including Dacia, up 0.5 percentage points, and Citroen, up 0.4 percentage points. In contrast, Volkswagen brand lost 0.4 percentage points.
A slight sales increase of 0.5 percent in Germany, Europe's largest market, was partly able to offset declines among other major markets, including former growth drivers France (down 1.8 percent), Italy (down 3.5 percent) and Spain (down 5.7 percent).
The British market, Europe's second largest, declined by 3.4 percent, a relatively good result that was helped by a Brexit delay granted by the European Union from March 31 until Oct. 31.
"Germany has been Europe's outstanding performer in the first half," LMC Automotive said.
A factor weighing on the market is slowing GDP growth because of trade disputes and new tariffs, especially between the U.S. and its major partners.
Nonetheless, European unemployment continues to fall, and is now at its lowest rate since 2008, at 6.4 percent. Consumer confidence remains above its historical average, although it has fallen markedly from a peak in early 2018.
ACEA has revised its full-year European sales forecast to minus 1 percent from plus 1 percent.