Europe's auto market was surprisingly buoyant in March.
The surprise was that Germany, not Italy, was the hot market of the month. Germans rushed to dealerships to beat an increase in the tax on car sales. The tax went from 15 percent to 16 percent April 1.
The European market was up 15.4 percent in March. Italy led the climb for 14 months until March, thanks to an incentive program for scrapping old cars. While a form of the incentive is still in place, the Italian market rose only 2.7 percent as it is cycling against incentive-swollen totals of a year ago.
New products contributed to the strong sales. Mercedes-Benz sales were up 42.2 percent in March. The new M class, A class and CLK all contributed, but sales of the bread-and-butter E class and C class were up as well.
Volkswagen managed an increase of 15.4 percent. Supplies of the VW Golf are still not matching demand, but they are starting to reach the German customers.
The top marque in Europe in March was General Motors' Opel/Vauxhall, followed by Ford, VW and Fiat. The new Astra is off to a good launch, and in the United Kingdom, the larger Vectra and Omega turned in a good performance. GM sold 132 Cadillacs, up from 45 as year ago.
However, as groups, Volkswagen AG is well in front of its rivals. In March, General Motors held second place ahead of PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, Fiat Group and Ford, but the second place rivals were all within less than 6,000 units of each other.