European car sales up for first time since 2011

MILAN The European auto industry may be showing the first signs of a slowdown in its sales free-fall, according to data from the European automaker's association.

New car registrations in April were up 1.7 percent on the same time last year, the ACEA's latest figures show. Although the April rise has more to do with the two extra work days last month due to an early Easter, sales figures for the year so far gave some cause for hope.

Last month, the ACEA showed registrations for the first three months of 2013 were down 10 percent on the year before. Latest figures show that sales for the first four months of the year were 7.1 percent less than in 2012.

"Is this the 'slowdown-in-the-collapse' that the industry is awaiting for? Let's hope so," said Carlos Da Silva of consultancy IHS Automotive.

The auto industry has been victim of the region's deepening recession and rising unemployment, and Europe's carmakers are looking to see when the bottom will hit.

Many have had to announce factory closures or put off new car launches in bids for survival.

The fortunes of the car industry have a big impact on the rest of Europe. According to the ACEA, the auto industry directly employs 2.3 million people, mainly highly skilled workers, and supports about another 10 million jobs among the carmakers' suppliers.

The declining car market in Europe has been weighing on global carmakers' bottom lines. Last year, four of the biggest automakers based in Europe -- Ford, PSA Peugeot, Fiat and General Motors -- together posted operating losses of 5 billion euros ($7 billion) for the region.

In April, 1.038 million new cars were registered in the European Union, up from the historic low for April of 1.021 million reached in 2012, the ACEA said.

Sales rebounded in Germany, posting a 3.8 percent gain in April compared with the previous year. Sales also were up in Spain, helped by new incentives, and continued strong in Britain.

France and Italy, the No. 3 and No. 4 markets, posted declines of 5.3 percent and 10.8 percent respectively.