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European car sales lowest since ’93

PARIS — European car sales tumbled again in May, reaching their lowest level in 20 years, manufacturers’ data showed Tuesday, but analysts and industry officials said the market might have finally begun to bottom out.

Sales fell 5.9 percent in May from a year earlier, to 1,042,742 units, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association reported from Brussels. The association said it was the smallest number of vehicles sold in the month since May 1993, when the number stood below 1 million.

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The European auto market peaked in 2007 at nearly 16 million new passenger vehicles, but it has been in retreat ever since. In the five months through May, new car sales were declining at a 6.8 percent annual pace, somewhat worse than most forecasts.

More than five years after the financial crisis arrived, Europe is still struggling to restart economic growth, and households remain extremely reluctant about big purchases like automobiles. The unemployment rate of the 17-nation eurozone stood at a record high of 12.2 percent in April, and nearly 27 million men and women across the wider European Union were unable to find jobs. Among young people, a top demographic for the future of the industry, the jobless problem is even worse, further damping prospects.

Carlos Da Silva, an analyst at IHS Global Insight, said that despite the dreary news, the rate of decline in the market appeared to have begun slowing since the start of the second quarter. While that is not the same thing as an end to the decline, he noted, it suggests that the second half will not be as bad as the beginning of the year.

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