Europe Car Sales Drop Most on Record in Year Vexed by Virus

(Bloomberg) — European car sales plunged the most on record last year as relatively resilient demand in the second half did only so much to make up for the collapse during the initial outbreak of Covid-19.

New-vehicle registrations fell 24%, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association said Tuesday, the biggest annual drop since records began in 1990. A strong finish to the year for Volkswagen AG and PSA Group limited the industrywide decline in December to just 3.7%.

chart: Grim Year

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Grim Year

Carmakers managed to better cope with government measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus as the year rolled on, helped by subsidies and dealers embracing online-ordering tools. But the collapse in sales in March, April and May proved difficult to come back from, with the industry managing a single month of growth all year. By contrast, China’s auto market expanded throughout the second half.


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While continued lockdowns will weigh on demand in the first months of the year, carmakers will have easy year-ago comparisons in the second quarter, Michael Dean, Bloomberg Intelligence’s European auto analyst, said in an email. He estimates sales will rise 13% this year, though that would still be 15% below 2019 levels.

Electric vehicles were a rare bright spot among the malaise, with BloombergNEF estimating that Europe’s plug-in hybrid and battery-only vehicle sales exceeded China’s for the first time. The researcher expects 1.9 million to be sold in 2021, roughly 40% of the global market.

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Bloomberg Intelligence also has said hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery-powered autos would exceed sales of diesel cars in the fourth quarter for the first time.

a screenshot of a cell phone screen with text: Total Sales Tallies

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Total Sales Tallies

Total registrations in December rose 8.2% for VW Group and 1.7% for PSA, Europe’s two top-selling carmakers, the ACEA said in a statement. Sales fell 15% last month for Daimler AG, 16% for Renault SA and 9.5% for BMW AG.

By country, deliveries expanded 9.9% in Germany and were little changed in Spain in December, while registrations in Italy and France both declined by double digits.

(Updates with Bloomberg Intelligence analyst’s outlook in the fourth paragraph.)

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Katherine E. Ackerman

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