Europe’s Market for New Cars Grew 9.3% in 2015 to a Post-Recession High – Wall Street Journal

Posted: Friday, January 15, 2016

A snow-bound Volkswagen dealer’s lot in Berlin. European Union demand for new cars reached a post-recession high in 2015, with the German auto maker  still the region’s top-selling manufacturer despite losing some market share.

FRANKFURT—Cars are flying off the lots, not just in the U.S.

Across the pond, pent-up demand for new cars in Europe led to a 9.3% surge in sales in 2015, making it the best for year for the region since 2009 though volumes have yet to get back to prerecession levels.

Sales of new cars rose 17% in December from the same month previous year, the strongest monthly rate in more than two years, data published on Friday by the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association showed. The robust monthly gain in registrations, a reflection of sales, lifted the year’s car registrations to 13.7 million.

Europe’s growth outpaced the U.S. car market, where sales rose 5.7% last year. The U.S. market remains much larger than Europe’s, with 17.5 million cars and light trucks registered in 2015. The U.S. performance marked a sales record, while Europe is still recovering from recession.

Sales in Europe are “only now passing levels registered in 2010, immediately after the economic crisis,” said the association, which goes by its French acronym ACEA.

Even so, countries which were most affected by the slump such as Ireland, Italy and Spain registered particularly strong growth, with yearly sales increases of 30%, 16% and 21% respectively.

A Ford Kuga sports-utility vehicle on display at last year’s Frankfurt auto show. Ford Motor Co. is one of the mass-market auto makers which benefited from the sharp rebound in European car demand in 2015.

Europe’s car market has been in recovery mode for roughly two years, after a long slump triggered by the global financial crisis. The region has proven a boon to auto manufacturers, particularly because developing markets including Brazil are coping with a downturn and China faces shakier growth prospects.

“We believe that given leading macro indicators such as consumer confidence and unemployment declines, the European sales outlook continues to be strong,” said Arndt Ellinghorst, head of global auto research at Evercore ISI. Mr. Ellinghorst expects the pace to slacken, however, and forecasts a 3% sales rise this year.

Dealer incentives and government scrappage programs have also encouraged new car sales in Europe, along with declining fuel prices. New registrations grew in Germany, the U.K. and France, the region’s three biggest markets, though not as fast as in some smaller countries.

Among the biggest beneficiaries of the swelling demand for new cars in Europe were luxury auto makers, dominated by German manufacturers and the Jaguar Land Rover unit of India’s Tata Motors Co.

Registrations of new BMW AG


cars—which include MINI and Rolls-Royce— rose 12% to 896,390 cars. Registrations at Daimler AG


, the owner of the Mercedes-Benz, rose 17% to 799,386, helped by its compact Smart brand. Porsche, the niche sports-car maker owned by Volkswagen AG


, notched up a 26% gain. JLR’s sales climbed 25%.

Volkswagen AG also posted an increase in EU sales, but its market share slipped for the first time since 2007 as the auto maker continues to grapple with the fallout of its emissions-rigging scandal. The data show Volkswagen’s market share declining to 24.6% in all 2015 from 25.4% in 2014. That ground was lost to rivals including PSA Peugeot Citroën SA,


Renault SA


and Ford Motor Co.


, according to ACEA data.

Volkswagen sales rose again in December, however, as the initial impact of its emissions scandal faded. Volkswagen registrations rose 4.7% in December, compared with a 4.1% rise in November and a 0.5% fall in October.

In the full year, Volkswagen sales were up 6.1%, at 3.38 million cars.

U.S. and Asian mass-market suppliers also enjoyed big gains. Ford registrations fell just shy of a million new vehicles. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles


more than doubled registrations of its Jeep brand.

Japanese car makers Nissan Motor Co.


, Mazda Motor Corp.


, Suzuki Motor Corp.


and Mitsubishi Motor Corp.


all had double-digit sales increases in 2015, though their share of the market remained small.

Missing out on the recovery in Europe last year was General Motors


’ Opel unit, which lost market share, with just a 2.4% rise in registrations.

Write to Sarah Sloat at


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