West European car market down 6% in March

By Dave Leggett | 6 April 2018

Western Europes new car market is heading for 14.5m units in 2018

Western Europe's new car market is heading for 14.5m units in 2018

Western Europe's car market slipped in March as the UK market's decline dragged the region down.

Data from LMC Automotive showed that West European car registrations fell by 6% year-on-year (YoY) in March. The annualised selling rate for the region fell back from 14.9m units a year in February to 14.1m units a year in March.

A number of markets were affected by the timing of Easter this year. Of the major markets, Spain lost two selling days, and the UK lost one.

The UK market, in its most important month of the year (impacted by annual registration plate changes), acted as a significant drag on the region, as sales were down 15.7% – or over 88,000 in absolute terms.

However, the German car market also saw a fall of 3.4%, with the selling rate dropping back from 3.7m units a year in February to a more moderate 3.3m units a year for March. In addition to the seeming inevitability of a correction to the overheated market, uncertainty over potential diesel bans in some cities may have contributed to the slowdown in sales. Spain recorded a YoY gain of 2.1% in March, but sales to individuals fell 3.3%, with the market being supported by businesses and hire companies. Sales in Catalonia fell 10.2% YoY, but it is too early to say if this is connected to the ongoing political dispute over last year's independence referendum.

The French market continued a very solid run of gains, rising by 2.2% in March.

In Italy, registrations fell by 5.8% YoY in March, and for the year-to-date (YTD), the market is now 1.6% below 2017's performance. However, the first quarter of 2017 was very strong, and LMC said it expects growth to return in the coming months.

With the UK unlikely to be able to claw back its first quarter losses throughout the rest of the year, German sales seemingly beginning to cool down, and a number of other markets reaching a more mature phase of the growth cycle, LMC said it is still forecasting a slowdown of growth for 2018 as a whole, to 1.7%.

LMC analyst Jonathon Poskitt said the March result for the region was largely in line with expectations. "The UK was clearly a big negative weight against last year's record," he said. "And a number of markets have been running close or over what we consider natural ceilings - Germany in particular. Nevertheless, a car market total of 14.5m units this year would be a pretty good market by historical standards."

West European car sales, March 2018

March 18March 17%chQ1 18Q1 17%ch
WESTERN EUROPE17027661811583-6.039173533932120-0.4

Source: LMC Automotive

Greece and Luxembourg: estimates for latest month.
Greece data source has changed to Sales from Registrations. 

West European annual car sales, 2012-2018 (April forecast)

Units (m)%ch

Source: LMC Automotive (April, 2018)