German vehicle production fell last year for the first time since 2002, to 5.5m units, down 3% on 2007.

According to vehicle manufacturers association, Verband der Automobilindustrie (VDA), production was up in the first half of the year to record levels, but declined sharply in the second half. December output was down 22% year on year to 275,000 units as manufacturer closed plants early for the Christmas break to lower stocks.

Exports last month were down 22% to 223,000 units and full year shipments off 4% to 4.13m units.  The VDA said German manufacturers nevertheless gained market share in all major export markets, up 0.7% in Western Europe, 0.1% in China and 1.4% in Russia.

Exports to the US were down 6%, but the market for light vehicles was down 18% overall, giving the German manufacturers an increase in their market share from 6% to almost 7%. But they sold 58,000 fewer cars.

The German domestic market was 1.9% down in 2008 to 3.09m units. Sales by German manufacturers were down 1%, with import brands off 3%. German manufacturers took a 70% share, up from 69.6% in 2007.

Order intakes are sharply down, too. Export orders were down 32% in December, and import orders down 21%. Outstanding orders are at their lowest level since the end of the 1980s, the VDA said.