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European Auto Sales Down In 2009

EU car makers' association said sales were down 1.6 percent from 2008, though government cash-for-clunkers programs did improve results.

BRUSSELS (AP) -- German luxury auto makers BMW and Daimler saw sales slip more than other car companies last year as government cash-for-clunkers programs helped overall sales slow by just 1.6 percent from 2008.

EU car makers' association ACEA said some 14.48 million cars were sold last year, less than 14.7 million in 2009.

It said fleet renewal programs in major markets, especially Germany, helped sales pick up in the final six months of the year following a sharp slump in the first half.

However, the payments to car buyers encouraged sales of smaller, lighter and more fuel-efficient cars, helping Italy's Fiat Group SpA grow sales by 6.3 percent, France's Renault SA by 3.9 percent and Volkswagen AG -- Europe's biggest car maker -- by 0.7 percent.

Heavier and more expensive models suffered. BMW's sales were down 13.6 percent and Daimler by 13 percent.

Uncertainty over the future of General Motor Corp.'s European units Opel, Vauxhall and Saab saw sales contract by 8.7 percent. GM has now reversed a decision to sell off Opel but has threatened to shut down Saab.

ACEA's figures show a very mixed situation for car sales across Europe. Germany grew sales by 23 percent and France by nearly 11 percent but sales were down almost 18 percent in Spain and 6 percent in Britain.

Ireland, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania -- all hit hard by the recent economic crisis -- saw sales fall by more than half.

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