Car sales are up in Europe — sort of

1.7% increase is explained by calendar change

European vehicle sales remain in the doldrums despite an uptick after 18 months.
Fabian Bimmer/REUTERS
European vehicle sales remain in the doldrums despite an uptick after 18 months.

PARIS — European auto sales broke an 18-month losing streak in April, industry data showed Friday. But don’t pop open the Champagne just yet: The uptick was mostly a trick of the calendar.

New passenger car registrations in the 27-nation European Union rose 1.7 percent in April from a year earlier, the first rise since September 2011, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association reported from Brussels.

But the association pegged the improvement mainly to the fact that European countries had two more business days, on average, this April than last.


Cara McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for the automakers’ association, said the extra two business days came because the Easter holiday fell in March this year, rather than April as it did in 2012. She also stressed that, even with the extra days, sales grew only in year-over-year comparison with last April, which was the worst April on record for EU car sales.

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“We cannot talk about the market picking up at this stage,” she said.

The overall trend in car sales remains a dismal one: April sales, at just over 1 million units, were still the third-worst recorded for that month since the association began compiling the data in 1990.

Many European households remain reluctant to spend on big-ticket items during a recession and a precarious labor market. Unemployment in the 17-nation eurozone stands at 12.1 percent.

More ominously for the car industry, a generational shift appears to be underway, with younger Europeans, like their American counterparts, far less interested in car owning than their parents and grandparents were.


One-third of the way through this year, the report showed, new car sales are down 7.1 percent from the first four months of 2012.