Registrations across the 27-member European Union fell from 3.31 million to 2.99 million units in the period from January to March, with France, Germany and Italy leading the slump with double-digit percentage losses.
More than 225,000 vehicles were wiped from those three countries alone compared with the first quarter of 2012, while a number of other smaller but still significant markets – including Spain, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland and Sweden – have likewise lost ground.
The United Kingdom is the one bright light in Europe, with sales increasing 7.4 per cent to 605,198 over the three-month period. Belgium, Denmark, Estonia and Portugal are the only others in the black in 2013.
Ford has been the hardest hit, with sales falling one-fifth across the region to 219,453 units.
Toyota Group (-17.6 per cent), General Motors (-12.8 per cent), Fiat Group (-9.0 per cent), Renault Group (-8.1 per cent) and Volkswagen Group (-7.5 per cent) were also hit hard during the first quarter of this year.
Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne was particularly bleak in his assessment of the current conditions in Europe.
“The market is getting worse by the day and for the first time I can’t see the bottom,” Marchionne said.
Hyundai Europe COO Allan Rushforth told Bloomberg he expects the trend “to continue through the second quarter before an improvement in consumer confidence helps to push up sales in the second half”, while Ford Europe CEO Stephen Odell said “a recovery in the second half looks a little less likely”.
Analysts have suggested the European market could contract by as much as seven per cent this year, falling well below last year’s 12 million mark.