June 15, 2018 / 6:03 AM / in 10 months

European car registrations flat in May on fewer sales days

MILAN, June 15 (Reuters) - European car sales rose a marginal 0.6 percent in May from the same month a year ago after posting robust growth the previous month, industry data showed on Friday, due in part to fewer working days.

Registrations rose to 1.44 million cars last month in the European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries, Brussels-based Association of European Carmakers (ACEA) said, from 1.43 million a year earlier.

European car sales rose 9.6 percent in April, helped by the timing of this year’s Easter holiday, which resulted in showrooms being open for business on more days.

European car sales returned to annual growth in 2014 after a six-year slump during which registrations fell to their lowest in decades.

Demand has been growing most months since, as a pick up in consumer confidence, retail incentives and new product launches lured customers back to the showrooms, although the fallout of the diesel emissions scandal has weighed.

Sales by France’s PSA Group soared 57.8 percent in May as registrations of the newly-acquired Opel-Vauxhall division were not included in year-earlier records.

Demand for the French carmaker’s Peugeot brand also grew 3.2 percent, but fell 3.3 percent for Citroen.

French rival Renault also posted a 6.5 percent increase, beating 3.7 percent growth at Europe’s biggest carmaker, Volkswagen, whose sales were lifted by healthy demand for its namesake brand, its premium marque Porsche and a double-digit rise at Spanish unit Seat. Sales at Japan’s Toyota grew 4.2 percent, helped by a healthy 21 percent gain at its Lexus brand.

But May registrations were flat at Italian-American carmaker Fiat Chrysler, hit by an 11 percent drop in demand for its mass-market Fiat brand and despite sales of its popular Jeep SUVs doubling.

Premium German carmakers BMW and Daimler posted declines of 6.0 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively.

Among the five major markets, sales were flat in France, but grew in the United Kingdom and Spain, up 3.4 percent and 7.2 percent, respectively. British car sales rose for the second month in a row in May as demand was recovering from weaker consumer confidence in the wake of the Brexit vote.

Registrations contracted 2.8 percent in Italy, which was rocked by political turmoil last month, and fell 5.8 percent in the region’s biggest market, Germany.

For the first five months of 2018, European sales increased 2.2 percent, helped by double-digit growth in new EU member states including Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania and Hungary. (Reporting by Agnieszka Flak Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

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