Europe’s auto industry is confronting unexpected challenges as car sales experienced a downturn in December, ending a 17-month streak of growth. The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association reported a 3.8% drop in new-vehicle registrations, with a total of 1.05 million units sold. The decline was most pronounced in Germany, the region’s largest market, where sales fell by a significant 25% following the expiration of EV incentives.
The automotive industry in Europe is now facing a challenging phase, with elevated borrowing costs, economic sluggishness in certain areas, and growing skepticism towards EVs. Bloomberg Intelligence projects a deceleration in sales growth to 5% this year, a steep decline from the 14% growth in 2023. Bernstein analysts anticipate this slowdown will lead to reduced car prices and narrower profit margins for carmakers.
Analysts, including Daniel Roeska from Bernstein, have noted a decline in pent-up demand, predicting that dealerships and manufacturers will soon confront the harsh reality of reduced consumer interest. Tesla Inc. has already responded to this shift, lowering prices for its popular Model Y in several European markets and announcing a temporary production halt in Germany due to logistical challenges. Audi has also scaled back its EV plans.
Despite growth in the UK, Spain, and France, the sharp decrease in Germany’s EV registrations, which nearly halved in December, had a significant impact. Overall, EV sales in Europe increased by 28% in 2022 but saw a 25% decline in December, affecting countries like Sweden, the Netherlands, and Croatia. This drop in EV demand poses a challenge for carmakers striving to meet stringent EU emissions targets in the coming years.
Nevertheless, there are some positive signs. Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, hinted at a possible rate cut this summer, which could ease financing costs. In Italy, where car registrations increased by 6% in December, the government is contemplating a €930 million package to boost EV sales.
Car manufacturers are not standing still amidst these challenges. They are preparing to launch 35 new battery-powered models this year, offering more affordable options to consumers. This move could help strengthen their market positions. In 2023, most manufacturers saw increased registrations, thanks to improved supply of essential components like semiconductors.