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Western European car sales fall on fuel and joblessness

Germany was the only major market to post a gain. Sales decreased 2.5% from a year earlier to 1.35 million vehicles, the Frankfurt-based VDA German Automobile Manufacturers' Association said in a statement yesterday. Sales for the first nine months of the year inched up 0.1% to 11.3 million units. Renault SA's and Nissan Motor Co.'s sales are dropping as customers turn to rivals' newer models, such as Fiat SpA's Grande Punto and Toyota Motor Corp.'s Yaris subcompact. Gasoline and diesel-fuel pump prices, which have risen from a year earlier, hurt overall demand. Crude oil prices rose 14% to an average of $70.70 a barrel in London in the quarter ending September 30 from a year earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. General Motors Corp., the world's largest automaker and Europe's third-largest, said last week that its European sales fell in September and for the first nine months of the year as demand for Opel brand models dropped. The company sold 185,045 cars and light trucks in Europe in September, a 4.8% drop from a year earlier. Nine-month sales slipped 0.2% to 1.53 million vehicles. DaimlerChrysler AG's Mercedes Car Group sold 7.8% fewer cars in the region last month. The company sold a total of 75,100 vehicles in western Europe.

Meanwhile, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has boosted earnings with sales of the Grande Punto hatchback, and brought the company back to profit in 2005 for the first time since 2000. The company's sales in its domestic market rose 5.9% last month. In France, the region's fourth-largest car market, car and light-truck sales slumped 13% in September after unemployment rose the previous month, the Paris-based French carmakers' association said on October 2. Sales declined to 173,336 vehicles from 199,446 units a year earlier. French unemployment in August rose by 9,000 workers to 2.44 million people, pushing the jobless rate to 9%, the highest since June. Unemployment in the dozen countries sharing the euro increased in August, the most recent figure available, from a record low as signs of a slowdown in the global economy prompted companies to curtail hiring. The jobless rate rose for the first time since November 2003, increasing to 7.9% from 7.8% in July, according to the EU's statistics office in Luxembourg. The countries covered in the sales report are Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Greece, the UK, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Sweden, Spain, Norway and Switzerland. (Bloomberg)