EU passenger car sales up

Passenger car registrations in the European Union (EU) rose further during March, albeit at a weaker rate than earlier this year.

According to data published by the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), demand has risen by six per cent year-on-year (y/y) to 1,700,674 units, which has further contributed to its year-to-date (YTD), which for the first quarter now stands at 3,819,259 units, a gain of 8.2% y/y. Furthermore, in the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) area – Iceland, Norway and Switzerland – registrations fell by five per cent y/y to 44,312 units, hurting its YTD which now stands at 112,644 units, an increase of just 2.5% y/y.

It has been a mixed month for the five biggest markets in the EU. The largest of these in March has been the UK as part of the biannual age-related number plate change cycle. Despite the significant growth during the past three to four years, the momentum is continuing and resulted in it setting a new monthly record of 518,707 units, which is also a gain of 5.3% y/y. Other gainers among this group this month have been France (+7.5% y/y) and Italy (+17.4% y/y), the latter benefiting from the growing replacement need amongst private customers as well as an incentive battle between key OEMs. However, the traditional leading market in the region, Germany, has flattened this month, while in Spain registrations have dipped by 0.7% y/y, although these weaker results are likely to be due to seasonal factors.

Outside this group, the market trend is predominantly gains, with plenty of these being double-digit percentage improvements. These include Portugal, Ireland and a host of markets in central Europe and are continuing to record improvements on the relatively low base of comparison and a need for replacement. More stable markets such as Sweden and Poland have also recorded double-digit percentage gains. The Netherlands is also making a comeback after a relatively heavy decline in the first couple of months after it was hit by a tax change.

Although the rate of growth has eased in March, Carlos Da Silva, manager of IHS Automotive’s European light-vehicle sales forecast has said that it was not a big surprise. He explains that the reasons are mostly technical due to Easter falling in March this year and resulting in some markets posting far weaker sales. However, when using seasonally adjusted data the trend remains strong in with no real sign of abatement. In addition, he adds that the first quarter ended with growth on the strong side, which is particularly notable given that Q1 2015 was already when in to a recovery trend.