European car sales tumble

An employee of German car manufacturer Opel works on their company's latest model "Insignia" inside the assembly hangar of General Motors German unit Opel's headquarter in Ruesselsheim March 31, 2009. REUTERS/Johannes Eisele

PARIS (Reuters) - Car sales in Europe tumbled again in the first quarter of 2009, putting further pressure on cash-burning manufacturers, and fell in March for the 11th month in a straight row.

The ACEA European car makers association, which counts all European manufacturers as members, including the Opel/Vauxhall unit of General Motors Corp, which is fighting for survival, said car sales fell 17.2 percent in the first quarter of 2009.

The March decline was less steep, however, as car registrations fell 9 percent in March compared with a year ago.

In western Europe, March sales fell 8 percent to 1.43 million cars, despite a 39.9 percent increase in Germany, the region’s biggest market, where a government incentive scheme was put in place in January.

Similar schemes providing cash benefits to scrap old cars and buy new, less-polluting cars, also pulled French sales up 8 percent, and there was a 0.2 percent rise in Italy.

But British sales dropped 30.5 percent in what would normally be a strong month, as a reflection of overall lack of confidence in the economy, AEA said. Likewise in Spain, where sales plunged 38.7 percent.

In Europe, Volkswagen VOWG.DE remained the biggest-selling group, but first-quarter registrations fell 9.4 percent to 714,453 units.

PSA Peugeot Citroen's PEUP.PA fell 19.2 percent to 433,422 units.