While most automakers saw their 2015 sales grow by double digits, demand for Volkswagen cars slowed as many new buyers turned to other brands following the company's pollution cheating scandal.
European car sales accelerated more than 9 percent in 2015, new industry data showed Friday, but market leader Volkswagen lost ground as consumers' trust in the company was dented by its emissions cheating scandal.
The German auto group - which also includes Audi, Skoda, Seat and Porsche - continued to sell more cars, but its market share shrank to 24.6 percent, down from 25.4 percent the year before, according to data from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA).
The slowdown came as the giant grappled with its biggest crisis in decades over disclosures in September that it had outfitted 11 million of its vehicles with devices designed to cheat pollution tests.
VW rivals pull ahead
If December is any indication of what is to come, VW could be in for a bumpy 2016. While the company did manage to grow sales by 4.7 percent, its performance paled in comparison to that of its competitors.
Japanese carmaker Mazda sold 52 percent more passenger cars, while demand for the Jaguar Land Rover group's brands increased nearly 41 percent. VW's German rivals BMW and Daimler both saw their numbers shoot up by double-digits, at 19.9 percent and 13.6 percent respectively.
France's Renault group enjoyed a 9.2-percent rise. However, that success may be short-lived after shares in the company plunged 10 percent Thursday on news that French anti-fraud investigators had raided several of the company's premises last week. While Renault stressed that no pollution cheating software was found on its cars, investors remain jumpy in the wake of the VW scandal.
'A very strong uplift'
Across the 28-country EU, over 1.1 million new passenger cars hit the roads last month, up from 952,000 in December 2014.
Spain led the way with 20.7 percent, followed by Italy with 18.7 percent and France's 12.5 percent. In the bloc's biggest market, Germany, nearly a quarter of a million new cars were sold, a year-on-year increase of 7.7 percent.
December demand drove what the Brussels-based ACEA called "a very strong uplift." But, it noted, 2015 sales remained "low" at a total of 13.7 million new registrations. "This result is only now passing levels registered in 2010, immediately after the economic crisis," it said.
Demand for new cars is seen as a leading indicator of economic health. It has now been rising in the EU for 28 consecutive months. The 16.6-percent increase recorded last December was the most significant seen in that time.
pad/cjc (AFP, dpa)