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Autos sales in Europe plunge to lowest level in two decades

Auto sales in Europe fell to their lowest level in 20 years last month, a sign that analysts  said represents the depth of the economic malaise spreading across the continent.

Sales of new passenger cars declined 5.9% in the European Union compared with the same month a year earlier to just 1 million vehicles, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Assn. That was the lowest since May 1993 when new auto sales dipped below 1 million.

Through the first five months of this year, the industry has sold just under 5.1 million autos, a 6.8% decline from the same period last year. The report covers 27 European nations.

The downturn included a 2.6% dip in Spain, 8% in Italy, 9.9% in Germany and 10.4% in France. England was the only country to post growth, an 11% gain.

Car sales are expected to continue to fall in Western Europe for the rest of this year, said John Hoffecker, who heads the automotive practice for the AlixPartners consulting firm.

“Flat is the new up in Western Europe,” said Hoffecker. “Our models show Western European sales reaching a bottom of 12 million units in 2014, and largely remaining there for the foreseeable future -- far from the historical peak of 2007, when 16.8 million units were sold. On the other side of the coin, however, Central and Eastern Europe will continue to grow, adding about 2 million vehicles in the next five years.”

He said 58% of the top 100 car factories in Europe are now operating a below a level where they can break even.


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