- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

BRUSSELS (AP) - European car sales fell 18 percent in February from a year ago, with steeper drops avoided only by government subsidies, European auto makers association ACEA said Friday.

It said most countries saw sales slide, except Germany _ Europe’s biggest market _ where a government program to ‘scrap a wreck and get a check’ buoyed car purchases by 21.5 percent. A similar French plan cushioned a 13 percent fall in sales, it said.

In Britain, nearly 22 percent fewer cars were sold while Italian sales were down 24 percent and Spanish sales almost 49 percent.

French carmakers and luxury German brands were worst hit by falling sales. PSA Peugeot Citroen, the second biggest European car company, saw sales collapse by a quarter while Renault SA was down 23 percent.

Daimler AG sales fell nearly 29 percent while BMW was down 29 percent.

Volkswagen, the region’s No. 1 car maker, saw a smaller decrease of 10 percent. General Motors was down almost 22 percent, Ford fell nearly 13 percent and Fiat sold 16.5 percent fewer cars.

Only South Korea’s Hyundai saw sales pick up _ by 20 percent _ although it only sold 26,173 cars out of the 968,159 models that left show rooms last month.

ACEA chief and Renault chief executive Carlos Ghosn said last week that total European car sales _ and production _ could fall by up to 25 percent this year and government incentives were crucial for propping up the market.

He called for some euro40 billion in loans, saying suppliers and manufacturers cannot find reasonably priced financing. Some euro7 billion in low interest loans from the European Investment Bank to develop fuel efficient vehicles was not enough, he said.

The European car industry, the world’s largest, produces more than 18 million vehicles, but at last count sells only about 12 million a year. It employs some 12 million people directly _ and many more in the supply chain.

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