PARIS – Europe turned a nasty corner in June, with light-vehicle sales dropping 8.1% to 1.2 million units, bringing the year’s first-half total to 7.1 million, down 2.1% compared with first-half 2010, industry data shows.

While small markets mainly in Eastern and Central Europe continued to mark gains, none of the big markets in Western Europe were positive in the month.

Auto makers in Germany, France, Austria, Sweden, Finland and Czech Republic all were up for the first half, but saw sales decline in June. Italy, the U.K. and Spain were down in June and for the year.

The European economy is in some disarray because countries including Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain are having cash-flow difficulties and are undergoing austerity measures that slow down auto sales.

Despite the problems overall, Volkswagen is forging ahead in outright sales improvements and thus market-share gains. The auto maker sold 856,104 units in the first half, a 5.7% improvement. The VW and Audi brands led the sales increase, but SEAT and Skoda also showed increases for the half.

In June, however, group sales cooled -0.5% as VW sales fell 4.7%. Ford deliveries grew 1.2%, although they were down 6.6% for the half. Still, because Renault sales fell 11.6% in the half, Ford moved up as the second-biggest brand in Europe behind VW.

Ford spokesman John Gardiner says the auto maker has led the U.K. market for more than 30 years, and did well in Germany this year, increasing its market share to 7.4%, up 0.5 points from last year. Within the European Union, Ford’s share is 8.1% while Renault’s fell to 7.9%.

Gardiner says Ford has not changed its outlook for a year it expects to end up between 14.5 and 15.5 million units, with the auto maker holding onto its share of the market. In 2010, EU registrations totaled 13.4 million and Ford’s share was 8.1%.

Ford still is ramping up sales of the sedan and hatchback versions of the Focus, but the only new vehicle coming in the second half is the low-volume Ranger pickup.

Fiat was the biggest loser among the seven European volume brands, down 19.1% for the half and 13.2% in June. Like Renault’s Dacia brand, Fiat last year sold many cars designed to run on liquefied-petroleum gas when several countries were offering big incentives on such cars.

In first-quarter 2010, 31% of Fiat’s sales were for alternative-fuel vehicles, compared with 5% in 2011, the auto maker told investors in April. Fiat has said it will regain some market share in the second half with introductions such as the new Lancia Ypsilon and Thema and Fiat Freemont.

Alfa Romeo has been Fiat’s only champion this year, with the Giulietta leading a massive sales increase. The brand was up 48% for the half and 22.4% in June; both figures were the best in Europe.

Ford was the only high-volume brand to show a plus month in June. The other winners were high-end (Lancia, Audi, Volvo, Alfa Romeo and Mini) or small (Hyundai, Kia, Skoda and Chevrolet).