MADRID – The Spanish auto industry closed 2009 with 955,146 new-car registrations, down 17.8% from prior-year.

Although the result is better than the 30% decline forecasted had the government’s 2000E Plan incentive scheme not been implemented in May, most industry players consider 2009 a less-than-stellar sales year.

The government’s incentive program was named for the €2,000 ($2,841) paid to new-car buyers who scrapped a vehicle more than 12 years old.

“Until the launch of the 2000E Plan, the forecast for 2009 was 800,000 new-car registrations, with a 30% fall vs. 2008, a year that closed with a 28% sales contraction in new-car demand,” says German Lopez, president of ANIACAM, the Spanish Association of Auto Importers.

However, damage already was done by the 2008 sales slide, which had a lethal effect on dealer networks.

“About 10% of small and medium dealers closed during 2009, losing more than 30,000 jobs in the sales and (auto repair) networks,” says Juan Sanchez, president of GANVAM, the Spanish association of dealers and vendors.

The effect of the government incentive program mostly was felt in the retail sector, where sales rose 4.5%, while vehicle deliveries to corporations tumbled 39% and rental-car sales plunged 56.1% in the year.

“A total of 260,000 car acquisitions were (made) under the 2000E Plan, mainly in the second half of 2009,” says Luis Valero, director of ANFAC, the Spanish association of auto makers producing vehicles in Spain.

Sales in the private sector also were boosted by incentives and discounts from the auto makers, desperate to hit their final figures for 2009. The move paid off as December new-car registrations jumped 47.6%, compared with year-ago.

The industry sold a total 643,518 passenger vehicles in 2009, a 4.7% gain on 2008.

The collateral effect of the incentive scheme saw gasoline-powered cars recover some lost share against diesel vehicles, which have dominated the market in recent years. Gas engines in Spain provide lower carbon-dioxide emissions, a key factor for car buyers considering a purchase under the 2000E Plan.

Lopez, of the auto traders group, is forecasting overall 2010 vehicle sales to stay even with 2009’s level, at about 950,000 units.

“There will be two very well defined periods,” he says. The first half of the year will show light growth vs. 2009, with an average increase of 15%. But in the second half, registrations could (fall as much as) 12%, as a consequence of the end of the 2000E Plan and by the announced increase in the (value-added tax) to 18%.”

The good news, says Lopez, is companies this year will be forced to renew their vehicle fleets to avoid a big reduction in residual value. Many corporations delayed fleet renewals in 2009 due to a surplus in the used-car market and reduced demand for used company vehicles.

Rental companies also are interested in renewing their fleets in order to maintain the buyback option, Lopez says. “The problem in both cases – company cars and rental channels – is how to get the money to operate, as banks and financial entities want to maintain a very restrictive loan policy.”