Paris - European new vehicle registrations fell 8.2% year-on-year in September despite two extra working days, as the fall-out from the financial crisis hit auto manufacturers hard, manufacturers' association European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) said.
The credit crunch is hampering the automotive sector's ability to finance its daily operations and invest in new technologies for greener vehicles, it said.
ACEA renewed a call to governments to help fund the development of fuel-efficient technologies and said capital expenditure by carmakers in the past decade had pushed them to the limit of their competitive edge.
In addition, demand for new cars is weakening, with customers increasingly reluctant to make large purchases or unable to find lenders willing to finance them, ACEA said.
Registrations for the European Union excluding Malta and Cyprus, plus European Free Trade Association countries totalled 1 304 583, the lowest September level since 1998, ACEA said. "Usually, September is a strong month for car sales that tend to pick up after the calmer summer months," ACEA said.
Over the first nine months of the year, sales for the region were down 4.4%.
In western European markets, September new registrations fell 9.3%, compared with September 2007, to 1 211 308.
Among these, the French and German markets resisted best, with France growing 8.4% after a 7.1% drop in August, while Germany's September sales edged down just 1.5% after falling 10.4% in August.
The steepest declines were in the UK market, where sales fell 21.2%, and in Spain, down 32.2%. Italy was down 5.5%.
In the new European member states, growth was 7.8% in September, with 93 275 vehicles registered.
Only VW up
Among manufacturers, General Motors recorded a drop of 18.1% in vehicle registrations in September to 129 746 units. GM, which sells Opel, Vauxhall, Chevrolet and Saab brands, said last week it was cutting output at European sites.
Nissan, which also announced earlier this week it was cutting production at a plant in Spain, saw a drop of 5.2% in September to 32 762 units Europe.
French manufacturers Renault and PSA Peugeot Citroen posted declines of 2.1% to 102 917 and 9.0% to 153 533 respectively for the region across their brands. Renault said its group world sales were up 1% in volume in September
Fiat's European sales, including Lancia and Alfa Romeo brands, edged down 1.4% to 97 553 for the month.
Volkswagen European sales, which include Audi, Seat and Skoda vehicles, rose 1.4% to 263 435 units.
The auto share index was slightly up but this reflected a gain of 5% for Volkswagen and a loss of 4% for Renault.
ACEA said most European automakers reported credible growth in the first quarter of 2008 as they resorted to a greater extent to cost-cutting initiatives, but prospects had become less certain.
"Restructuring efforts remained a priority for European automakers, as they struggled with high raw materials costs and a flat European market," it said.
It added top European automakers had seen substantial increases in capital spending over the past decade.
"They committed large sums of money into product development and powertrain technology to achieve independence from fossil-based resources and in a bid to cut emissions, without the upfront assurance of receptive consumer demand," it said, adding this pushed the pressure on the industry's competitive strength to its limits.
"In light of the evolving financial crisis and consequent economic downturn, car manufacturers recently asked that various measures should be considered by EU policy makers to ensure the future of car manufacturing in Europe and reinforce the momentum in consumer demand for fuel-efficient vehicles," ACEA said.