Ford, PSA Peugeot Citroen and Toyota led European car sales to a new low in January.
They were down 8.5 percent on the same month last year as austerity measures and unemployment hit consumer spending.
It was the slowest January since the Association of European Automakers’ records began in 1990.
Ford, which is cutting back European production capacity with three plant closures, suffered a 26 percent sales plunge.
Peugeot and Toyota each dropped 16 percent.
After falling to a 17-year low in 2012, European car demand is expected to contract further this year, squeezing mass-market brands still harder between excess capacity and cut-throat pricing.
Most carmakers see the regional market shrinking between three and five percent in 2013.
Tentative hints of a broader eurozone economic upturn have yet to percolate to the car industry.
Bright spot Britain
Britain was the only bright spot, with an 11.5 percent year-on-year rise in the first month of 2013 as dealers cut prices and offered cheap loans, at the cost of profits.
In Germany and France sales fell 8.6 and 15.1 percent respectively in January.
Trevor Finn, chief executive of Britain’s top car dealer Pendragon, explained why volumes have gone up: “It’s nothing to do with Britain booming. It’s to do with car manufacturers doing better deals because they can.”
A stronger pound increases the margin on European-made cars sold in Britain and gives car companies more room to cut prices.
However, if the pound drops, as it has in recent months, that will change. In mainland Europe, offers have become so aggressive in order to shift stock that many cars are sold at a loss. Peugeot has said it loses about 350 euros per car.
Get a different perspective
Every story can be told in many ways: see the perspectives from Euronews journalists in our other language teams.