Growth in 2011
Paris/Seoul - South Korean automakers predicted rising 2011 sales on US and China growth, while France's car market ended a negative 2010 on a high note, with drivers flocking to bag scrapping bonuses before they ran out.
Carmakers are increasingly relying on growth in high-profile emerging markets like China, Brazil, Russia and India, while the US market is gradually recovering.
In Spain, car sales fell for the sixth consecutive month in December, with a 23.9 percent drop. For the full-year, sales rose 3.1 percent.
A 0.7 percent slide in French car sales in December brought the year's decline there to 2.2 percent, but the French car market saw 2010 out with a bang in terms of new orders, as the final scrapping bonuses spurred drivers to buy new cars.
Orders placed in the final weeks of 2010 mean the French car market will have a strong start to 2011, although beyond the first quarter, uncertainty reigns.
"We have good visibility for the first quarter of 2011," said Flavien Neuvy, head of the automobile industry research department at French consumer credit organisation Cetelem.
"With the orders from the end of the year we know that the first three months of 2011 overall will be good ... afterwards, there is real uncertainty," said Neuvy.
He added that the end of 2011 could be difficult, and that there would be a "payback" effect in the second half of the year when the benefits of scrapping ran out once and for all.
In the short term, Neuvy sounded a note of caution about margins, as carmakers offered hefty additional discounts to encourage buyers in the last weeks of the scrappage scheme.
"Certainly they made a lot of marketing efforts, so we can think that will have an effect on vehicle margins. They have focused on volumes - in France what is really important for carmakers is defending their market share."
French car sales fell 2.2 percent to 2.25 million units in 2010, carmakers' association CCFA said on Monday.
"December orders were very good," said a CCFA spokesman, "but that is not necessarily reflected in sales."
Car sales or registration figures lag behind orders as customers register their cars when they are delivered a few weeks after the order is placed.
"GOOD" FIRST QUARTER
"The first quarter of 2011 should be rather good," the CCFA spokesman added, as orders taken in the final months of 2010 would show up then.
France originally offered a scrapping bonus of 1000 euros (R8830), but it was gradually reduced to 500 euros before finally ending on New Year's Eve.
"It was an absolutely phenomenal month: we had a market of orders for 370 000 cars, which allows us to start the year with a very comfortable order book," Renault's commercial director for France, Bernard Cambier, told BFM radio on Monday.
The French car market saw 370 000 orders registered in December, 30 percent more than the same month last year, he said, adding that Renault itself saw orders rise "almost 46 percent" year-on-year in December.
December car sales figures showed a 5.7 percent increase for the PSA Peugeot Citroen group, while Renault group sales fell 4.6 percent last month, CCFA data showed.
Hyundai Motor Group and its affiliate Kia Motors aim to boost vehicle sales by 10 percent this year after robust December sales, as the sector shows a gradual recovery, led by China and the United States. US car sales figures are due out on Tuesday, and December is expected to be the third straight month that US auto sales hold above 12 million vehicles on an annualised basis, capping a year of gradual recovery for the auto sector, analysts said.
Hyundai said on Monday it would target sales of 6.33 million cars in 2011, up 10 percent from 5.75 million in 2010. The auto giant did not give a breakdown of Hyundai and Kia sales targets.
In 2010, Hyundai Motor sold 3.6 million cars, up 16 percent, and Kia shipped 2.1 million vehicles, up 40 percent.
"Hyundai Motor Group's 2011 target appears to be conservative and fully achievable," Tong Yang Securities analyst Ahn Sang-jun said.
The global auto industry rebounded strongly until the first half of 2010 from the industry's worst ever downturn, but has started losing steam because of the euro zone debt crisis and as the US economy struggles with weak consumer spending.
The market, however, is on track to report healthy growth this year, as the US market gradually recovers and on robust growth from China, now the world's biggest auto market.