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European Car Sales Plunge, Deepening Industry Woes

Oliver Sachgau
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European Car Sales Plunge, Deepening Industry Woes

(Bloomberg) -- European car sales fell sharply in August, deepening the woes of an industry battling sluggish demand in key markets and the challenge of rolling out electric vehicles.

Registrations dropped 8.4%, the steepest monthly decline this year, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association. The fall was partly due to exceptionally high growth a year earlier as manufacturers rushed out models ahead of tough new emissions-testing rules. Volkswagen AG shares lost 0.4% in early trading in Frankfurt and BMW AG was 0.3% lower.

In addition to the risk of a recession in Germany, carmakers are also facing a slowdown in the Chinese car market. European sales over the year to date are down 3.2% and the continent’s five biggest markets all contracted in August, with Spain and France posting the biggest slowdowns. The drop last month brought registrations down to 1.04 million units.

Nissan Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV saw the biggest slowdown in August sales at 47.5% and 26.5% respectively.

The industry’s predicament took center stage at the Frankfurt auto show, where thousands of protesters demanded political and industry action to combat climate change. The head of Germany’s auto lobby group also unexpectedly announced his resignation last week.

Carmakers at the show displayed their new electric models, which will become crucial in coming months as the companies race to meet new European carbon-dioxide emissions rules. Carlos Tavares, head of the ACEA and chief executive officer of Groupe PSA, last week called for more charging infrastructure to encourage consumers to buy the vehicles.

After the August 2018 boost, auto sales dropped dramatically overall and have failed to pick up since, with the association forecasting a 1% drop for the year.

While the ongoing issues in the car industry are hitting Germany in particular, there are signs of weakness in manufacturing across Europe. Euro-area economic growth is forecast to slow to 1.1% this year from 1.9% in 2018, which would be its worst performance in six years.

The weakness in industry hasn’t had a dramatic impact on the labor market so far. If that changes, and unemployment starts to rise, that would mark a step up in the seriousness of the slowdown. It would also further hurt car sales as consumers rein in big-ticket purchases.

Europe’s July sales increase, one of only two monthly gains in 12 months, was almost entirely down to Central European countries, the association said. Only Germany showed positive growth that month among Western European countries.

(Adds shares in second paragraph.)

--With assistance from Fergal O'Brien.

To contact the reporter on this story: Oliver Sachgau in Munich at osachgau@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tara Patel at tpatel2@bloomberg.net, John Bowker

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