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Auto Industry

European car sales hit lowest May level in two decades

There's no end in sight to the slump in European car sales, fresh figures from the continent's automakers' association have revealed. Many carmakers can only keep afloat thanks to good business overseas.

The European Automakers' Association (ACEA) said on Tuesday that passenger car sales in the EU in May dropped by 5.9 percent year-on-year to just above one million units. That was the lowest level for the spring month recorded since 1993 when new car registrations in the bloc stayed below the one-million threshold.

Sales in Europe's strongest economy, Germany, fell a worrying 9.9 percent for May compared to 2012, while in crisis-hit Italy new registrations dropped by 8 percent in the same period. The car industry has been badly hit by the region's deepening recession and high unemployment rates.

The only bright spot was Britain where car sales went up 11 percent in May, thus cementing a growth trend in previous months.

Asia, North America to the rescue

Among the big carmakers in Europe, Peugeot-Citroen of France logged the biggest drop in sales, with new registrations going down by 13.3 percent, followed by Fiat's 11-percent drop.

Europe's biggest automaker, Germany's Volkswagen, fared reasonably well amid the crisis, logging a sales decline of only 2.8 percent. German luxury carmaker Mercedes-Benz even recorded slightly higher figures, while its domestic rival BMW saw its sales ease by 6.6 percent in May.

Many European automakers were again able to offset some of the losses incurred on their own continent by excelling in important overseas markets. They managed to increase sales to China by 14.4 percent, while 8 percent more units left showrooms in the US.

hg/msh  (AP, Reuters, dpa)