Ominous Economic Signs from Europe’s Auto Market

Hope for an early economic recovery for 2013 in the Eurozone have all but disappeared as auto sales in France, Italy, and Spain fall to either record or long time lows in 2012. Italian auto sales fell a 22.5% in December and 19.9% for the year, ending at 1.4 million units, a level not seen since 1979. Sales are expected to fall further, to 1.33 million units, according to Filippo Pavan Bernacchi, the president of Italy’s car dealers’ trade group Federauto. France’s auto industry association, CCFA, reported that car registrations fell 15% in December and were down a full 14% for 2012, ending the year at 1.90 million units. Spain saw sales tumble to their lowest since 1979, off 23% in December, 20% in November, and 13% for the year, ending at 699,589 units.

The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, or ACEA, which represents the 27 European Union member countries plus Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland forecast a regional drop of 10% for 2012, the worst showing in 19 years. The ACEA forecast a drop of 10% in auto sales for 2012.

Spain/France Hit Hard in December

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Brand sales have been hit especially hard in France. Ford posted a sales drop of 40% in France and 31% in Spain, while General Motor’s division, Opel, fell 16% and 17% respectively. Volkswagen saw a 25% drop in sales in France in December, while Fiat saw a decline of 15% in Spain.

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Renault registrations fell 32% in France.

Layoffs and Plant Closings

Peugeot Auto Assy Plant, Paris
Peugeot, aligned as it is with General Motors, made a political decision to support Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s calls for sanctions on Iran. The result has been the loss of Peugeot’s second largest market. The move has resulted in a loss of sales of 250,000 units plus spares.

Over 8000 French workers were fired as this political decision resulted in lost sales. Peugeot has been and will be unable to replace this market.

Meanwhile, the Opel plant in Bochum, Germany, will cease operations in 2016, furloughing an additional 3000 workers. The closure of the Bochum plant represents the first auto plant closure in Germany since WWII. Ford has announced plant closures in Belgium and the United Kingdom, while FIAT announced cutbacks of production at a plant in Poland.

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