Car sales in Western Europe fell by 5.6% in May, with the sales trend once again turning negative after April's small gain

LMC Automotive said that while the selling rates in recent months have picked up from earlier in the year, most markets are continuing to struggle against the ongoing economic headwind. Four of the five biggest markets in the region declined in May.

The German car market was down by 9.9% in May, with the year-to-date market down by 8.8% on last year. LMC says that weak consumer confidence in Germany could lead to the German car market declining by 3-4% this year.

Both France and Spain registered year-on-year sales falls in May, though selling rates picked up a little. In France, the annual selling rate picked up a little to 1.8m units a year, the best result of the year so far. However, this is still below the 2012 market and LMC says that it expects France to be the largest single contributor to the region's near half-a-million-unit contraction forecast for this year.

The selling rate in Spain remained around 700,000 units in May with the market continuing to be supported by a scrappage incentive. In Italy, the market climbed to 1.5m units a year, the best selling rate of the year. However, LMC said that the economy continues to contract and, with rising unemployment, “any quick turnaround in the fortunes of the Italian car market look very unlikely”.

One bright spot continued to be the UK market recovery. The 11% year-on-year improvement for May translated into a selling rate of 2.3m units a year, the best selling rate in three and a half years. Private retail buyers are continuing to show strong growth, with the fleet market flat. LMC said that the pace of growth in the UK car market will be hard to keep up, but a “good 2013 full year improvement looks assured”.

For the West European region as a whole, LMC forecasts a 2013 car market of 11.3m units, 3.9% below last year.