Jan 16 - Renault, Volkswagen and Ford spurred European car sales to their strongest performance in four years in December as the sector's recovery spread to Mediterranean markets. Sonia Legg asks if the tough times in Europe are finally over?
The focus was firmly on eco-friendly at the Brussels Car Show this week. But it seems Ford's Focus - the model that is - is also proving popular in Europe. Monthly European car sales hit their highest level for four years in December. Renault, Volkswagen and Ford spreading the sector's global recovery to the Mediterranean. There were almost 950,000 new registrations - that's an increase of 13% and a fourth straight month of gains. BGC's Mike Ingram wasn't surprised to see recovery finally reaching Europe. (SOUNDBITE) (English): MIKE INGRAM, MARKET COMMENTATOR, BGC PARTNERS, SAYING: "The car park in Europe has aged. The average age of a car in Europe is now 7 and half years - some are literally just falling over. A lot of the auto makers are putting some good deals in place and in Spain for instance the scrappage scheme was re-introduced in October. And all these things are helping drive these sales forward." All major markets increased. Sales at Renault were up almost a third largely thanks to a 48% surge in its low cost Dacia brand. Germany's VW gained 22%, with double digit growth extending from luxury Audi to no-frills Skoda and Seat. And Ford registrations were up by a fifth. Even the recent strugglers saw growth. GM's Opel/Vauxhall brands sprung back to 22% growth, PSA Peugoet Citreon was up almost 9%, while Italy's Fiat recovered from a near 6% decline to 2.3% Japan's Toyota saw a near 11% increase too. It was one of the many auto makers showing off new technologies in Brussels. Opinion is split over which way the industry will move. Toyota favouring fuel cells - while Volkswagen, Tesla and Nissan are betting on electric. (SOUNDBITE) (English) NISSAN BELGIUM AND LUXEMBOURG SPOKESPERSON MARIE-LOUISE VAN DYCK SAYING: "We decided '100% electric' because we think there is a public for it. We never pretended it is for everybody. We never pretended that but a big part of the market can go 100% electric, seeing the short distance they run everyday." Nissan's new hybrid electric racing car was certainly a big attraction in Brussels. The Zeod RC is taking part in the Le Mans 24 hour Race in June. Nissan says it can reach speeds of 300 kmh with a sixth of its power coming from the battery instead of diesel. Europe's car market isn't quite as fast - yet - but it's showing signs of picking up speed.