Almost unnoticed, the EU became the largest regional auto market last year. Thanks to the support of scrappage programmes (particularly Germany's €5bn scheme) it sold 14.4 million autos, compared to just 10.4m in the USA and 13.6m in China.
W Europe continued to see higher sales than Central Europe, due to greater government support. But overall, EU sales were still down 1.6% versus 2008 and 9.5% versus the peak Boom year of 2007. Unsurprisingly, the scrappage schemes boosted sales of smaller, more fuel-efficient autos, causing Ford, Renault and Fiat to gain market share. BMW and Mercedes dropped to 8th and 9th place.
It seems unlikely that governments can afford to maintain this level of support in 2010. GM Europe president Nick Reilly expects sales to decline by at least 1.6m, whilst analysts JD Power forecast a 10.5% fall to 12.2m sales. In turn, this suggests chemical and polymer sales into this important market will remain under pressure.