November 19, 2013 / 7:13 AM / 6 years ago

Fragile European auto rebound rewards new models

PARIS/MILAN (Reuters) - European car sales rose 4.6 percent in October, according to industry data published on Tuesday, as a broad-based recovery took root in the region’s main auto markets.

The new SUV Mercedes GLA is displayed during a media preview day at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) September 10, 2013. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Toyota (7203.T) and Renault (RENA.PA) led the gains among mass manufacturers, with Daimler (DAIGn.DE) gaining ground on premium rivals as total registrations advanced to 1.04 million cars, the Association of European Automakers said.

Despite what is becoming a sustained upturn in demand, the European auto market is set to post a sixth consecutive full-year decline in 2013 to its lowest level in two decades. Registrations were down 3.1 percent for January-October across the 30 countries of the European Union and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) trading bloc.

The year-on-year advance in October - a month after sales turned positive with a 5.5 percent increase - may embolden car executives planning for a return to full-year growth in 2014, albeit at a low single-digit rate.

Carmakers that have invested in the development and rollout of successful new models in recent months are already gaining market share in the recovery.

Renault’s group sales jumped 14 percent on strong demand for its Captur mini-SUV and revamps of the no-frills Dacia brand’s Logan and Sandero models.

Toyota surged 16.5 percent to 49,097 cars last month, helped by models like the Auris compact.

European market leader Volkswagen and General Motors (GM.N) also outpaced the broader expansion with respective gains of 5.7 percent and 6.2 percent.

Within the VW group total, sales of the premium Audi division shrank 0.5 percent, while rival BMW (BMWG.DE) rose just 0.3 percent, trailing an 8.5 percent gain for Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz division, on the popularity of new models like the CLA compact.

The pain did not ease for Italy’s Fiat FIA.MI or PSA Peugeot Citroen (PEUP.PA), the European automakers worst hit by the six-year slump.

Recent model launches by Paris-based Peugeot were not enough to prevent a further 0.7 percent sales decline in October, eroding the struggling French automaker’s market share to 11 percent for the first 10 months from 11.8 percent in the year-earlier period.

Fiat continued to pay the price of an ageing model lineup - the result of Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne’s decision to slash investment while riding out the crisis and pursuing a buyout of 58.5 percent-owned Chrysler.

Fiat’s group sales fell 7.3 percent, sunk by declines of 3.5 percent at the namesake brand, 12.2 percent at Lancia and a 34 percent plunge for Alfa Romeo - still awaiting the start of a long-promised revival plan.

Reporting by Laurence Frost; editing by Andrew Hay

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