Recovery hopes for the passenger vehicle market in Europe have taken a dent with the release of January new car sales figures by the European carmakers' trade association, ACEA. They show that the European market including EU countries, EFTA nations and the EU's 2004 accession countries in central Europe, totalled some 1.23 million units last month - down 1.4% on January of last year.

New cars sales in western Europe (EU15 - excluding '04 accession countries  - plus EFTA) were put at 1.17 million units, 1.6% below last year's level.

Analysts said that the figures were disappointing after a strong December and the performances of the German market (12.4% down on last year) and French market (down 11.9% on last year) provided particular cause for concern. However, a mixed picture across the big national markets of Europe was evident, with the Spanish, UK and Italian markets all recording significant growth on last year.

For the first time, ACEA is compiling data for the EU '04 accession countries of central Europe - Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. January car sales for that grouping were 3.5% ahead of last year at 61,600 units. By far the biggest market in the group is Poland's and the Polish car market was up 5% in January to 29,600 units.

At manufacturer level the Japanese and Korean makers continued to gain share in Europe. Japanese brands stood at 14.1% share in January against 11.5% in the same month last year, while the Koreans were at 3.7% against 3% last year.

There was some cheer for Fiat Auto, helped by new models, in January, with group sales up 1.4% to 103,000 units and share creeping up - 8.8% against 8.5% last year. 

Volkswagen Group and GM were heavy losers in January. Volkswagen brand sales were down 10.5% to a little over 108,000 units while Opel/Vauxhall was off 11% at 99,000 units. Volkswagen's decline helped Ford to emerge as the single biggest brand in Europe in January, with sales of 110,000 units - down 1.6% but with share holding steady.

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