European sales declined 0.8 percent in April, dragged down by a severe drop in the eight countries that joined the European Union nearly a year ago.
"It is a tale of two European blocs," says Nigel Griffiths, an analyst at Global Insight in London.
"Western Europe had its first positive figures this year in April. The old eastern part of Europe was down 30 percent."
Griffiths says sales in Western Europe were up 1.3 percent in April, the first increase in 2005, but only because April had more selling days than April 2004.
Beating the rules
Eastern European sales were higher a year ago because buyers rushed in before new EU regulations could be applied in their countries.
Says Griffiths: "People were concerned the floodgates would open with new regulations and taxes, so sales were strong."
In some of the EU's eight new member states, value-added taxes have increased. In others, reclassification of vehicles increased taxes, he says.
Griffiths is predicting little relief for Europe for the rest of the year. He forecasts a drop of 0.8 percent.
On the manufacturer side, General Motors was up 7.0 percent in April compared with a year ago largely because of continued strong sales of the Astra.
Opel and Vauxhall sales were up 7.7 percent, and Chevrolet and GM Daewoo sales increased 7.1 percent.
Saab was the only slow performer in the group, with sales down 5.3 percent.
Ford Motor Co. was off 7.4 percent, reflecting the 4.0 percent decline in sales in the United Kingdom, its biggest market.
Ford also replaced the Focus, and all variants have not yet been released.
DaimlerChrysler AG sales were up a mere 0.5 percent, dragged by a decrease in Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler group sales. Mercedes sales fell 1.9 percent because of the aging C and E classes. Griffiths says recalls for the E class and quality concerns also have affected sales.
VW, BMW rise
Volkswagen AG, Europe's biggest automaker, was up 6.0 percent. VW benefited from the 4.1 percent rise in Germany.
BMW AG was a big winner in April with a 22.9 percent increase. The BMW brand, which has launched a new version of the bread-and-butter 3 series, was up 23.7 percent.
The Japanese brands had a mixed performance. Griffiths says it is unclear whether the advances made over the last two years will stabilize or decline.
Nissan, for example, was up only 1.7 percent because of its reluctance to match competing makes' incentives.
Mazda sales were down 17.6 percent.
"Mazda was on a strong growth track, but it has run into that glass-ceiling effect, and we just have to wait and see," Griffiths says.
Korean automakers continued to make inroads. Hyundai was up 9.1 percent, while Kia sales skyrocketed 43.1 percent.
Both brands have introduced competitively priced SUVs - the Hyundai Tucson and the Kia Sportage.