European car registrations fell 2.3% in July - the first time the market has declined in almost three years, according to automotive business analysts JATO Dynamics.
The 2.3% drop in sales translates into a fall from 1.18 million in July 2015 to 1.16m for the same period this year.
JATO believes that two fewer working days in July may have contributed to the fall in sales, alongside the significant decline for two of the largest European car groups, PSA Peugeot Citroën and the Volkswagen Group. PSA recorded a 13.2% fall in its registrations and the Volkswagen Group's dropped by 8.8%.
However, despite the overall decline, SUV sales continued to grow, increasing registrations by 11.9% compared with July 2015, and it now accounts for 25.5% of the overall market. The Nissan Qashqai kept its position as the best-selling SUV, registering 18,373 units, but this was a 6.9% drop on the same period last year. Growth in the segment was driven by the Qashqai's newer rivals such as the Renault Kadjar (sales up 127%) Hyundai Tucson (up 586%) and Kia Sportage (up 24%).
JATO’s global automotive analyst, Felipe Munoz, put the growth of the SUV segment down to the introduction by manufacturers of models across all body sizes, as well as safety-conscious buyers’ preference for a higher driving position.
Across the board, France experienced a fall of 9.6% and Germany a 3.9% drop. Italy posted an increase of 2.6% and registrations rose 4.4% in Spain. The UK recorded a negligible increase of 0.1%.