West European car registrations fell 1% year-on-year (YoY) in April according to data released by LMC Automotive. However, the annualised selling rate rose slightly, to 14.3m units a year from 14.1m units a year in March.

German market sales fell 1.1% YoY in April, which was enough to tip the year to date (YTD) position into negative territory (-0.2%, YoY). Neevertheless, LMC said German car demand appears to be holding up well in the face of a sluggish economy. UK sales were down 4.1% YoY in April, as the market remains in the doldrums amid economic uncertainty.

French new car registrations grew 0.4% YoY in April and the annualised selling rate dropped to 2.1m units a year. In Spain, seven consecutive months of YoY decline came to an end, with an increase of 2.6% YoY, though for the first four months of the year, sales are still down 4.5% on last year. Similarly, Italy delivered its first YoY gain of 2019 in April, with car registrations growing by 1.5% YoY, as the selling rate climbed to 1.9m units a year.

Italian sales were boosted by both an extra selling day and the launch on 8th April of a new bonus system for lower-emission cars. However, LMC warned that given limited resources set aside for the bonus payments, it is far from certain that any momentum can be carried through the remainder of the year, and it seems unlikely that the YTD contraction of 4.6% will be overturned by year-end.

Although April was a relatively sluggish month for the European car market overall, LMC said there are some indications that macroeconomic conditions are looking more positive, with Italy exiting recession, the threat of a no-deal Brexit more distant, and signs of a potential trade deal between the US and China (latest developments notwithstanding). Overall, LMC says it still sees a slight improvement in West European new car sales for 2019 as a whole, to the tune of 0.2% at 14.22m units.

"The European car market is struggling to show significant growth this year," said LMC analyst Jonathon Poskitt. "And given where it is, that's not too surprising. There are still a number of risks present and the auto industry will be keen to maintain sales at a 14m-units or thereabout level, avoiding a significant market descent in Europe that could cause problems at a time when sales and profitability around the world are coming under pressure."