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European car sales shift up nearly 11% in March

[PARIS] New car registrations jumped by 10.6 per cent in Europe last month, their strongest gain in a year, according to data released on Thursday, providing a further signal of recovery in the region's economy.

"All major markets contributed positively to the overall expansion," to 1,604,107 units, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association said in a statement.

Registrations of new cars, a proxy for sales, provide an important indicator of consumer demand and auto manufacturing is a major employer in the economic sector.

The ECB launched a massive 1.1-trillion-euro (S$1.59 trillion) stimulus programme last month to try to lift the anaemic growth rate in the eurozone, which managed an expansion of just 0.4 per cent last year.

March was the 19th consecutive month of increasing vehicle registrations in Europe and in the first quarter of 2015 sales rose by 8.6 per cent over the same period last year to 3.5 million vehicles.

The European car market only snapped a six-year slump brought on by the global financial crisis in 2014, when sales grew by 5.7 per cent.

But the sector's still convalescent state is clear in comparing the 12.5 million units sold last year to the 16 million which rolled off dealers' lots in 2007 before Wall Street unleashed a global financial crisis.

In March, the gains in sales were very strong in Spain, where they shot up by 40.5 per cent compared to the same month last year, and in Italy where they jumped by 15.1 per cent.

Both markets were especially hard hit by the crisis, contracting by about half.

On a quarterly basis, Spain was also the biggest gainer, with sales soaring by 32.2 per cent. It was followed by Italy with a 13.5 per cent gain.

In March, sales also rose by a solid 9.3 per cent in France and 9.0 per cent in Germany.

In Britain, which is not part of the eurozone, registrations rose by 6.0 per cent in March.

Among manufacturers, the Volkswagen group remained in pole position in Europe with a market share of 24.3 per cent in the first quarter, up 0.2 per centage points from the same period last year.

France's Peugeot Citroen PSA still remained in second place, but saw its market share dip 0.5 per centage points to 10.7 per cent.

Renault was in third at 9.5 per cent, an increase of 0.1 per centage points.

Nissan, a Renault ally whose sales are not counted together, saw its European sales rise above its Japanese rival Toyota, giving it a 4.5 per cent market share.

AFP