Car sales in Western Europe fell by 9.5% in January according to data issued by LMC Automotive, as the effects of the region's economic problems continued to depress demand. The January result equates to a Seasonally Adjusted Annualised Rate (SAAR) of sales of just 10.5m units a year.

LMC said that many markets disappointed and while there may be some impact from bad weather and strikes, the latest selling rate is the worst since 1987. Ongoing weak consumer confidence is clearly taking its toll, the forecasters said.

German car sales fell 8.6%, with the selling rate falling to just 2.8m units a year. The French market registered the lowest level of January registrations since 1997, down 15% on January 2012, with the selling rate last month standing at just 1.6m units a year. 

The Italian car market's selling rate plummeted to a little over 1.1m units a year last month. The selling rate in Spain stood at 690,000 units a year — an improvement on the previous few months but bearing in mind this market is being supported by a scrappage incentive scheme, that rate also remains worrying. LMC said.

The UK car market continued to buck the wider trend of year-on-year falls seen in many other countries in Western Europe. UK registrations managed double-digit percentage growth in January 2013 with private sales once again the key driver to this improvement. 

Although January can be a weaker month due to payback from year-end pushes to achieve sales targets, the latest result points to a tough year ahead, LMC warned. It has trimmed its forecast for the year and now expects the Western European car market to fall to just under 11.3m units in 2013.