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European auto sales hit new low

FRANKFURT, Germany – European Union auto sales are sagging despite the return of modest economic growth.

For the first eight months of the year, passenger car sales were off 5.2 percent to 7.84 million compared to the same period last year, the European Auto Manufacturers’ Association said Tuesday.

That’s the lowest January-August figure since the group started keeping track in 1990.

New car registrations in August fell 5 percent from a year ago to 653,872, the association said.

The economy in the 28-country EU grew 0.4 percent in the second quarter, but the unemployment rate remains high at 11.0 percent. Countries hit by the eurozone debt crisis such as Greece and Spain face even higher jobless rates that have hurt sales of moderately priced vehicles. Luxury carmakers are doing better.

The August downturn was distributed across Europe’s biggest markets. Germany fell 5.5 percent, despite a stronger economy than in other members of the 17-county eurozone. Registrations fell 10.5 percent in France, 18.3 percent in Spain, and 6.6 percent in Italy.

Britain was the only major market to expand, rising 10.5 percent.

Among the major carmakers, Germany’s Volkswagen including its other brands was off 11.2 percent in August while France’s PSA Peugeot Citroen slipped 17.3 percent. Renault Group rose 6.0 percent and General Motors was up 0.5 percent – as a large jump in sales of Chevrolet-branded vehicles made up for a 3.4 percent fall in sales of its main European Opel and Vauxhall brands. Ford was off 1.5 percent.

Luxury brands did better. Daimler’s Mercedes was up 8.9 percent, excluding its compact Smart city car, and BMW AG rose 9.5 percent, excluding its Mini brand.

VW’s Audi luxury brand, a chief competitor for Mercedes and BMW, however was off 5.6 percent.

The biggest market share over the first eight months remained with Volkswagen Group, including the company’s other brands such as Audi, Seat and Skoda, with 24.9 percent, up slightly from 24.8 percent.

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