New-car sales in Western Europe in January were off 0.5 percent from January 2000 despite two additional selling days.
Sales in January totaled just under 1.3 million units, according to figures released by ACEA, the European automakers' association.
'Despite the fact that the Western European car market is showing signs of volatility, the basically good economic outlook and the expected tax reductions in several European Union countries may provide grounds for more optimism,' ACEA said in a statement.
But Charles Young, director of research at J.D. Power-LMC Automotive Forecasting Services in Oxford, England, was less optimistic.
'The market was generally rather negative,' he said. 'There were two extra working days (in January 2001) in which vehicles could be sold and registration data processed. Also, it was the first January in which the French model year coincided with the calendar year.'
But expectations of a significant sales increase in France failed to materialize.
Although French sales were up 12.7 percent to 191,203 units, Young said 'a large proportion could simply be attributed to the extra working days.'
Tax changes were a major influence in car-buying decisions last month, ACEA said.
For example, sales in the Netherlands in December rocketed 71 percent as buyers tried to avoid an increase in the value added tax that went into effect Jan. 1.
In January, sales in the Netherlands were off nearly 21 percent from the corresponding month last year.
In Finland, a decline in sales of 27.6 percent was attributed to the fact that customers are waiting for changes in car taxation.
Tax incentives that went into effect Jan. 1 in Spain pushed sales there to better than expected results in January, ACEA said.
Germany's Volkswagen Group reported a 6.2 percent sales gain in January.
Market share for the VW Group, which includes the VW, Audi, Seat and Skoda brands, climbed to 18.3 percent, from 17.1 percent last January.
France's PSA/Peugeot-Citroen also increased market share in Western Europe.
The group's January sales increased by 9.3 percent, and its market share grew to 13.8 percent, from 12.5 percent last January.
But VW and PSA gains were offset by poor performances from the Japanese and Korean brands.
Japan's January sales fell by 8.2 percent. Korea's January's sales fell by 31.9 percent.