Car sales figures for October reflected weak consumer confidence in crisis-hit Europe, with Italy and Spain posting falls from the previous year and France and Germany recording only muted rises.
Car makers have been enjoying healthy sales in emerging markets but are worried about the outlook for Europe, where governments are struggling with sovereign debt woes and austerity measures are biting into consumer spending power.
New car sales in Italy fell 5.49 percent in October year-on-year as recent austerity measures and the threat of more to come dented sentiment. Fiat
Italian foreign carmakers' association UNRAE said car orders in Italy in October fell 12.5 percent to their lowest levels on record, pointing to gloomy times ahead.
The ongoing recession and further reduction to consumption by families hit by restrictive fiscal policies and rising unemployment will also impact demand for new cars next year, UNRAE managing director Gianni Filipponi said in a statement.
UNRAE, which sees a fall in Italy's car sales this year of over 10 percent, forecasts a 2 percent year-on-year fall in 2012.
Spanish car sales fell 6.7 percent in October from a year earlier, car makers' association ANFAC said.
ANFAC recorded 57,278 new car registrations compared with 61,367 in the same month of 2010, the worst reading for this month since the figures began, the association said.
France's new car registrations rose 2.8 percent in October for a 0.4 percent gain over the first 10 months of the year, car makers' association CCFA said Wednesday.
Once again, it is aggressive pricing policies by car makers that fended off the worst, Xerfi analyst Philippe Gattet wrote in a research note.
Aggressive discounting by car makers lures drivers into showrooms but takes its toll on the companies' profit margins.
We must make no mistake -- the economic situation is getting worse in France, Gattet said.
PSA Peugeot Citroen
Belgian car sales fell 2.5 percent in October, industry body FEBIAC said.
New car registrations in Germany edged up by only 1 percent in October as sales of foreign makes fell in Europe's biggest economy, automotive industry association VDA said.
Car production eased by 2 percent and exports were flat, but VDA said it still expected output at record levels for the full year. Especially due to the strong demand for exports, assembly in factories has sped up, VDA President Matthias Wissmann said in a statement.
German car makers in particular have been benefiting from strong demand from emerging markets including China, offsetting the European gloom.
Premium car maker Audi, a unit of Europe's biggest car maker Volkswagen AG
Last week, Volkswagen said Europe's debt crisis would weigh on demand for cars in western Europe.
Also Wednesday, truck maker MAN SE
Elsewhere Japan's Nissan Motor Co <7201.T> fended off the gloom, posting higher-than-expected quarterly profits and lifting its annual earnings and sales forecasts, shaking off worries about the Thai floods and the global economy.
(Reporting by Jan Schwartz. Additional Reporting by Maria Sheahan, Gilles Guillaume and Paul Day; Writing by Helen Massy-Beresford and Stephen Jewkes; Editing by David Holmes and Helen Massy-Beresford)