The European economy has been in a rather frozen state since the financial recession that began to stir in 2007 and 2008, and while the U.S. has been quick to thaw and return to a robust state of growth in many aspects, Europe has been slow to come out of hibernation. However, signs of life are returning, as new data suggest that Europe’s auto market — a key indicator in economic activity — is showing stronger signs of life.
European car sales rose by almost 8 percent percent last month, making for the region’s sixth consecutive monthly year-on-year gain. Economic revival and price incentives were credited with helping to strengthen the demand for new vehicles, Automotive News reports. Registrations leapt to 894,730 vehicles from 831,371 in February 2013; for both January and February combined, sales have grown 6.3 percent to 1.86 million vehicles.
PSA Peugeot-Citroen saw registrations for its vehicles spike by 3.5 percent, as the Peugeot brand put in a 7 percent gain at Peugeot, handily offsetting the flat sales figures at Citroen. The company credited new models of the Peugeot 308 hatchback that won the 2014 European Car of the Year award, helping the unit win buyers amid a shift to more upmarket cars, Automotive News quoted Peugeot chief Maxime Picat as saying earlier this month.
Fellow French firm Renault followed suit, spiking 11.5 percent over February of last year. This is largely due to the 34 percent gain seen at its budget brand, Dacia, which is riding the momentum of a new Duster SUV and Logan sedan. Renault’s namesake brand put in 4 percent, helped greatly by the Captur compact crossover.
American automaker Ford (NYSE:F) also had a stellar month in the region, which is helping it make good on its promise to bring its European unit back into black by 2015. Deliveries grew 11 percent, riding on the success of the Fiesta subcompact and the Kuga, known in the United States as the Escape. Ford announced in January that it would be increasing its production of the Fiesta in its Cologne, Germany, plant, according to Automotive News.
For General Motors (NYSE:GM), a 16 percent shot at its Opel and Vauxhall units spurred the company to a 12 percent overall gain for the month as Chevy brand sales slide 5 percent. Opel chief Karl-Thomas Neumann said earlier in March that the brand is likely to grow its 2014 deliveries in the region faster than the forecast 2 percent industrywide growth, in part due to demand for models like the Adam minicar.
Volkswagen AG (VLKAY.PK), which has been struggling as of late, still managed to put on a tidy 7 percent gain — though without help from its namesake line, which slid 0.8 percent on a registrations basis. The weight was carried by its budget brand Skoda (up 21.5 percent), Seat (up 16 percent), and Audi (up 12 percent).
Fiat (FIATY.PK) — rather, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles now — saw sales pick up 5.8 percent. Demand remained strong for the 500L minivan variant of the main brand’s 500 subcompact, Automotive News said.
BMW contributed 4 percent, as a 7 percent increase in the BMW nameplate helped offset a hefty 10 percent slide in sales at Mini. It’s the same story with Mercedes-Benz. Company group sales rose 4 percent, with Mercedes-Benz brand sales rising 5 percent, though Smart dropped by 7 percent.
Toyota (NYSE:TM) saw a 14 percent rise in sales, and Nissan (NSANY.PK) was up 3 percent. Hyundai saw a decline of 3 percent, though its corporate sister brand, Kia, packed on an 8 percent increase.
Regionally, France was the only country to see a decline in new car registrations: Numbers there fell by 1 percent while German registrations rose by 4 percent, the U.K. spiked 3 percent, and Italy surged 9 percent. Spain saw a leap of 18 percent thanks to government programs encouraging citizens to trade in their vehicles for more emissions-savvy new cars.