BRUSSELS (AP) -- European car sales fell 15.9 percent over the first four months of the year as the recession caused demand to dry up, with only Germany recording sizable gains due to government incentives, the European auto makers association ACEA said Thursday.
Car sales have now dropped for 12 months in a row, with only government subsidies preventing an even sharper collapse, the association said.
Germany, Europe's biggest market, is bucking the trend with an 18.4 percent rise in sales over the first four months compared with a year earlier -- buoyed by a government program to 'scrap a wreck and get a check.'
A similar incentive in Austria was starting to show its impact in April with an increase of 12.8 percent during the month compared to last year, although that was still not enough to get the four-months figures in the black.
The worst affected major market was Spain, where sales dropped 43.7 percent in the first four months compared to 2008. Over the same period, British sales dropped 28.5 percent.
Neighboring Ireland, which was also particularly badly hurt by the economic crisis, saw car sales fall 65.2 percent in a year.
Outside the EU, Iceland stood out with a drop of 90.8 percent in the first four months, meaning almost no cars are being sold there anymore. In all, 72 cars were sold across the country.
The European car industry, the world's largest, produces more than 18 million vehicles, but at last count sells only about 12 million a year. It employs some 12 million people directly -- and many more in the supply chain.