European Union car sales rise 4.6% in April

General view of new cars lined up on the docks in Sheerness, Kent, European Union car sales in April rose 4.6% compared to a year earlier

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Sales of new cars in the European Union (EU) rose 4.6% in April compared with the same month a year earlier figures have shown.

The European Automobile Manufacturer's Association (ACEA) said demand for new cars within the EU rose for the eighth month in a row.

Discounts, government incentives and sales of cars marketed as "nearly new" propped up the figures, analysts said.

Car sales were strongest in Spain, which saw a 28.7% year-on-year rise.

Analysis

For the European car industry, these figures are positive, but hardly a cause for celebration.

Yes, more cars were registered in April this year than last - but the total is still well below the levels seen before the financial crisis.

In the continent's biggest market, Germany, sales actually fell.

There's also the question of incentives. Demand for new cars rose 28% in Spain, for example - but much of the increase can be attributed to a scrappage scheme, which offers drivers big discounts if they trade in their old cars for new models.

Elsewhere, too, it's thought that there has been heavy price cutting, so increased sales may not necessarily translate into increased profits.

That said, there is some cause for optimism here. Across the EU, demand has increased steadily since the start of the year, especially in the countries which bore the brunt of the downturn. A car is a major purchase at any time, and if consumers are willing to splash their cash once again, that may suggest returning confidence.

Good news for the European economy - perhaps.

That helped offset a 3.6% fall in new car sales in Germany.

Sales also rose 1.9% in Italy, 5.8% in France and 8.2% in Britain.

When car sales in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which includes countries such as Norway and Switzerland, were included the overall figure fell slightly to 4.2% in April, the ACEA said.

The EFTA saw car sales fall 5.5% in April compared with a year ago.

Mass-market car manufacturers Ford, Fiat, Renault and Opel showed stronger growth than premium brands, the figures also showed.

Sales of new cars in April for Peugeot, Renault and Opel - part of US car manufacturer General Motors - rose 5.8%, 9% and 5.1% respectively, the ACEA said.

And new car sales were up 7.3% at Ford and 3% at Fiat.

But sales of Mercedes-Benz were just 1.1% higher and rival premium brand Audi (owned by Volkswagen) saw sales grow just 0.6%. BMW new car sales were higher by 2.3%.

Volkswagen and Hyundai were the only mass-market brands to see declines in April, recording a fall in sales of 0.8% and 4.4% respectively, the figures showed.

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