European car sales are back to 1996 levels. Thanks austerity.

At a plant in Turin, another Maserati needs a home.
At a plant in Turin, another Maserati needs a home.
Image: Reuters / Stefano Rellandini
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June was another miserable month for the European car business. New car registrations in the euro zone slipped 5.6% in June, from the same month last year.  The total of 1.13 million new cars was the weakest may since 1996. If you’re looking for a barometer of just how poorly consumer confidence is on the continent, this is it.

France was down 8.4%. New car registrations in Italy were down 5.5%. And it’s not just southern Europe that’s weak. In Germany sales were down 4.7%, which explains why high-end automakers are focusing on selling used cars by employing sales pitches that worked well in emerging markets.

Softness in the European car market is also an issue for General Motors, which lost $175 million in Europe in its first quarter and doesn’t expect to break even there until the middle of the decade.

If there was a bright spot in the European autos report, it was the United Kingdom, where registrations were up 13.4% amid signs of life in the British market.