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GM, Nissan, Others See European Sales Decline In First Half &

Drop comes even as auto sales rise across the region.

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - Automakers Renault, Peugeot, General Motors and Nissan saw European car sales slide in the first six months of 2006 despite a 1.3 percent increase across the region, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association said Friday.

French car maker Renault SA saw sales fall 9.4 percent to 757,729 compared to the first half of last year, while Europe's second-largest car company PSA Group SA - which makes Peugeot and Citroen cars - reported a 2.5 percent drop to 1,108,533.

The troubled General Motors Corp. - which announced this week that it would shut its Portuguese plant and shift production of Opel's Combo model to Spain - was also down, by 2.4 percent to 870,950 on lower sales of Opel/Vauxhall. Its Saab models reported an increase, up nearly a quarter.

Nissan sales were also down 14.9 percent to 172,918.

Buyers across the European Union, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland took home 8,323,033 new cars from January to June 2006, up from 8,219,279 for the same period last year, the ACEA said.

However it reported weak sales for June, warning that a 4.1 percent decrease signaled that market conditions were still uncertain.

Car sales in two of the euro area's weakest performers - Italy and Germany - rose but sales fell in Europe's other three main car markets: France, Britain and Spain.

Italy was up 7.9 percent on last year, when it was hit with a car transporter strike, and Germany rose 1.4 percent. But Britain fell 4.2 percent as consumer demand slows, France decreased 1.6 percent and Spain went down 1.2 percent.

The booming Baltic states saw startling rises in new car sales. Latvia surged 56 percent, Lithuania was up 24 percent and Estonia rose 24 percent.

Fiat saw the largest sales climb, rising 20.1 percent to 644,712 with strong results for its core Fiat models and luxury Alfa Romeo brand.

However, Volkswagen AG remained streets ahead as Europe's largest carmaker with 1,621,438 new cars sold, up 7 percent, reporting higher sales across the board for its VW, Audi, Seat and Skoda models. The German company has 19 percent of the European car market.

Ford Motor Co., at third place, also fell 1.8 percent to 889,037 with only its Land Rover division posting better sales while Ford, Volvo and Jaguar all down.

DaimlerChrysler AG posted a modest 3.2 percent increase - even though Smart car sales fell almost 22 percent. Toyota showed a 7.5 percent rise and BMW Group sales went up 2.6 percent.