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by Tim Beissmann

Passenger car production in Europe in 2009 was at its lowest level since 1996, with the 13.4 million manufactured units representing a 13 percent decline.

Although sales were down by just 1.3 percent, thanks in part to fleet renewal schemes and scrapping incentives, total vehicle production was almost one-quarter behind pre-crisis levels in 2007.

The 13 percent drop in new car production was the steepest since 1993, but positive signs began to emerge later in the year.

Production was up 22.8 percent in the fourth quarter compared to 2008, although that was still 7.6 percent below comparative 2007 data.

Germany was the highest vehicle producer in the EU with 5.2 million units (-13.8 percent), followed by Spain (2.2 million, -14.6 percent) who overtook France (-20.2 percent). The UK maintained fourth position, producing more than one million vehicles for the year but losing 33.9 percent on 2008.

Production of vans and trucks throughout the EU plummeted by 42 percent and 64 percent respectively.

In total, 14.1 million new cars were registered in the EU in 2009. Just five countries posted growth compared to 2009, led by Germany (+23.2 percent) and followed by the Czech Republic (+12.5 percent), France (+10.7 percent), Austria (+8.8 percent) and Slovakia (+6.7 percent).

Market share of small cars (segments A and B) rose 6.2 percent in 2009 to 45 percent, while demand for cars emitting less than 120g/km CO2 recorded its strongest ever growth, up 59 percent. Around 3.2 million frugal cars were sold in 2009, accounting for 25 percent of the new car market.

Diesel market share lost ground from 52.7 percent to 45.9, and average engine size decreased to 1625cc which is the smallest average size recorded since 1991 in Western Europe. Average engine power also decreased.

The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) says the overall economy is yet to fully recover and predicts 2010 will be a very challenging year for the industry.

“Passenger car sales are expected to go down, most notably in countries where fleet renewal schemes have ended. Commercial vehicle registrations in the EU are expected to be flat at best, after a drop of 32 percent in 2009,” it said in a statement.

In the EU, 2.2 million workers are directly employed in automotive manufacturing, and an additional 9.8 million rely on the industry for their jobs in closely related sectors.

“Given the dimension and length of the economic downturn, pressure on automotive employment is mounting.

“Manufacturers have and will continue to take numerous measures to cut costs as well as to keep their skilled workforce and maintain investments in R&D, to emerge from the crisis in a sustainable, competitive way.”




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