New car sales in Western Europe declined by 5.3 percent to 1.67 million units in March against last year, according to figures released today by the European carmakers’ trade association, Acea. The cumulative decline in the first quarter was 5 percent against the same period of last year.

The March total was dragged down by a sharp 9 percent fall in Germany, which reflected poor consumer confidence and a weak economy there. However, the sales figures for France, Spain and the UK were relatively buoyant.

Arthur Maher of JD Power-LMC commented: “The big concern in these numbers is Germany. The annual running rate for the German market in March is below 3.2 million units.”

In terms of the manufacturer totals, PSA (Peugeot-Citroën) managed the biggest share gain in March of 1.4 percentage points to 13.8 percent, helped by a mixture of market geography and product factors. Ford recorded a share gain to 12.5 percent in March, helped by the impact of the new Mondeo.

The Japanese carmakers emerge as notable poor performers in the European car market in the first quarter. First quarter share stands at 10.8 percent against 11.9 percent last year.

Arthur Maher said: “Their big problem is that they are still suffering from a general perception that they make dull products. However, they are clearly regaining the design initiative with products like the Toyota Yaris and new Honda Civic.

“Look for them to be very aggressive in the market later this year, especially as they are operating well below capacity in Japan.

“Moreover, demand has turned down in North America and the domestic market is in the doldrums. The pressure will be on to shift volume in Europe.”

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Global Car Forecasts to 2005

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