FRANKFURT -- New car registrations in Germany fell slightly in March, but the VDA auto industry association stuck to its full-year forecasts on Thursday, saying the market remained broadly stable.
The VDA said March registrations in Germany, Europe's biggest auto market, dropped one percent from a year earlier to 318,000 vehicles but monthly production rose six percent year-on-year and exports climbed 10 percent.
"Based on the quarterly results, I see no reason to change our forecasts," VDA President Bernd Gottschalk said at an event on Wednesday evening in remarks embargoed until Thursday.
The VDA's assessment of the market tallies with the sales trend in the first three months of the year at Europe's largest carmaker, Volkswagen AG.
Company sources told Reuters VW had sold around as many cars in the first quarter of 2002 as it did a year ago, but had seen weaker sales in March.
The VDA is expecting 3.25 million new car registrations in Germany in 2003, broadly the same level as last year, and production of more than five million cars.
The German market has been held back by sluggish economic growth, weak consumer spending and worries about the war in Iraq, although exports, notably to the United States, have been relatively healthy and have made up for some of the weakness in the domestic market.
U.S. SALES GAINS
U.S. sales by German manufacturers rose two percent in the first quarter, against a four percent fall in the overall U.S. market, enabling German manufacturers to increase their market share to 10.2 percent from 9.6 percent.
Gottschalk said recent political tensions between Berlin and Washington over the Iraq war did not appear to have had any appreciable impact on U.S. sales.
"I think that so far, we haven't seen any significant quantitative effect on sales in North America," Gottschalk said.
However, the association warned that the U.S. market was showing signs of weakness and growing inventory backlogs, suggesting that production cutbacks were likely.
The VDA said overall orders were holding up relatively well despite the fall in March but it noted that growing unemployment and rising fuel taxes in Germany had been having a dampening effect on domestic car sales for the past four years.