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Europe’s car sales hit positive territory

Neil Winton
Special to The Detroit News

In just over a month, Europe’s car manufacturers will be celebrating their first positive year for sales since 2008, but prospects for 2015 look more like stagnation than healthy growth.

The market seems to be stuck in recovery mode.

Most experts expect the growth to continue in 2015, but at a lower level.

Car sales in the European Union (E.U.) rose 6.5 percent in October to 1.07 million compared with the same month of 2013, to bring sales 6.1 percent higher at 10.65 million for the 10 months.

“This strengthens the idea that 2014 should end on a positive note for the region overall, which would be the first time that this has taken place for six years,” said IHS Auto analyst Carlos Da Silva.

Da Silva said the rate of improvement was very slow, adding that the pace of sales was around the same level as seen in late 2008 when the recession struck.

“That was the point at which many countries were prompted to adopt supportive measures such as scrapping incentives. But today, these levels are considered as harbingers of better things to come,” Da Silva said.

Da Silva said the truth is that the current levels of sales in Europe, although improving, are still at much lower levels than is good for the financial health of manufacturers.

“The European market is still only in recuperation mode. It is far from cruising at normal speed yet. The European recovery is happening in a very delicate context, one that still requires a fair share of artificial support, such as through the rental market and incentives. It seems the patient is doing better, but still cannot do without any medication,” he said.

IHS Auto expects 2014 sales to hit 12.5 million, for a 5.2 percent growth on the year. But this is still some three million below the peak years of the last decade.

“While we expect demand to continue to grow for the coming years, by the end of the decade it will still only have reached around 14.3 million, still over one million below where it once was,” Da Silva said.

GM Europe’s Opel-Vauxhall subsidiary performed well in the first 10 months, with sales up 8.6 percent to 740,210, according to the European Auto Manufacturers Association. Ford Europe too was ahead of the average with a 7.0 percent sales gain to 799,304.

Opel-Vauxhall has just launched its revamped little Corsa, while Ford is about to start sales of its face-lifted Focus. Early next year sees the launch of the much delayed new Ford Mondeo, sold as the Fusion in the U.S.