European car sales posted their first gain in 20
months, rising 1.7 per cent in April compared with the same month
last year, the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA)
A total of 1.038 million new cars were registered in the European Union in April, the ACEA said. Registrations had slumped to an historic low of 1.021 million in April last year.
"The region counted on average two more working days compared to the same month last year, which would account for the increase," the ACEA said.
This year's data was also the third lowest number of new registrations for the month of April since the ACEA began collecting data in 1990.
In the first four months of the year, new car registrations fell 7.1 per cent, to 4.026 million vehicles, compared with the same period a year ago.
Still, the modest gain in April - which follows solid gains in several of the EU's biggest car markets, including Germany, Spain and Britain - is likely to add to hopes that the European car business is recovering from a sharp downturn.
Sales rebounded by 3.8 per cent in Germany, Europe's biggest car market, after they slumped by 13 per cent in March.
Europe's largest car marker, Volkswagen posted a 9.9-per-cent gain in registrations in April, helped by a 6.3-per-cent increase for the German flagship VW brand.
New registrations in Britain, the region's second biggest market, raced ahead by 14.8 per cent, and by 10.8 per cent in Spain following the launch of new incentives by Madrid to encourage consumers to return to car showrooms.
Greece, which has been at the centre of the eurozone debt crisis, reported a 20.9-per-cent rise.
However, the European rebound was held back by another round of big falls in the continent's third and fourth biggest markets - France and Italy.
France's PSA Peugeot-Citroen group and Italy's Fiat each reported a slump of about 10 per cent in April.
Releasing its latest worldwide sales figures, VW warned of the current problems facing global carmakers.
"The market environment remains difficult, and is very challenging in some world regions," said VW sales chief Christian Klingler. "The economic crisis in Europe in particular is having an increasing impact on the automobile industry."
"However, growth continues on the markets in North America and, above all, Asia, so we are optimistic we will be able to maintain the momentum of the first three months in the second quarter," he added.
VW's global sales rose 5.6 per cent between January and April to breach the 3-million mark for the first time during the first four months.
This came after deliveries in China topped 1 million during the first four months of the year following an 18.4 per-cent jump compared with the same period last year.
European carmakers have been attempting to counter weak demand in western Europe by boosting sales in emerging markets.
New registrations in Romania and Bulgaria soared by more than 20 per cent.
Peugeot-Citroen's French rival Renault reported a 5.3-per-cent gain on the back of a 28.2-per-cent surge in its low-cost Dacia brand, which is mostly aimed at emerging car markets.
Asian carmakers also fared relatively well in Europe with Toyota and Nissan Motor each reporting gains of more than 5 per cent and sales of Hyundai's vehicles rising 2.2 per cent.
It was a mixed picture for Europe's top luxury carmakers. Sales of Mercedes Benz and Audi rose 12.7 per cent and 8.5 per cent respectively, while BMW registrations were down 3.8 per cent.
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