European car sales lowest since 1993
The European Automobile Manufacturers' Association said demand for new cars in the European Union was down 5.9% on the same month last year.
Just over a million cars were registered in the lowest total since 1993 – a blow to the industry after a slight, unexpected upturn in April.
France, Germany and Italy all showed a big decline in sales, with only Britain bucking the gloomy trend with a recession-busting 11% rise in new car sales during May.
As unemployment rises in many European countries, people are opting to stick with their old and often unreliable cars rather than trading in for expensive new models.
As a result, several manufacturers have announced factory closures or deferred launching new models.
Mark Fulthorpe, an automotive analyst at IHS, told the Guardian: "Clearly consumers are cowed in the big southern European markets. In Germany, the wider concerns about the state of the eurozone economy are beginning to affect consumer confidence there too, so we are beginning to see them step back from those big purchases we were seeing them making more freely in 2012.
"But most of the markets are going to be slower while austerity is the flavour, particularly in the southern eurozone countries."
The success in the UK has seen many manufacturers diverting large percentages of their marketing budgets towards these shores, which also means competitive rates and enticing financial incentives.
A spokesman for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders in the UK told the Guardian: "The positive performance we've seen in the UK new car market this year has been driven by a range of market and buyer-specific factors, as well as the hard work of vehicle manufacturers and their dealer networks to attract motorists to the forecourts.
"These are difficult times for a number of European countries and there needs to be sustained, collective effort to promote economic growth and strengthen consumer confidence."