New-vehicle sales in Western Europe rose last month for the first time this year on the strength of big gains by Asian automakers, France's PSA/Peugeot-Citroen SA and the Ford Group.
According to the European automakers' association, ACEA, March sales edged up 2 percent from a year earlier to 1.59 million vehicles. That brought sales for the first quarter to 3.80 million, down 2.4 percent from year-ago quarter.
The March figures were buoyed by an extra working day in the month compared with a year earlier and by government incentives in Italy, where sales surged 27.4 percent over a year earlier.
Sales of PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, Europe's No. 2 automaker behind Volkswagen Group, jumped 7.5 percent in March, led by a 17.2 percent surge at Citroen. Ford, buoyed by demand for the new Fiesta supermini and gains by its Land Rover and Jaguar luxury units, was up 3 percent.
But Volkswagen, the industry leader, was off 2.6 percent; Renault, 3 percent; General Motors, 0.3 percent; and Fiat, 2.4 percent. Ford's Volvo cars unit slid 6.7 percent.
Asian brands as a group surged 11.1 percent. Toyota/Lexus, the segment leader, was up 2.3 percent, while No. 2 Nissan rose 4.7 percent. Hyundai, which has passed Honda and Mazda to become Europe's No. 3 Asian import, was up 21.7 percent over a year earlier.
Industry experts warn against reading too much into one month's numbers and predict a drop in Western Europe's car sales this year. Last week, PSA said the impact of the war in Iraq could trim new-vehicle sales in Western Europe by 2 percent this year, the lower end of a previous forecast.