When Germany and new members of the European Union pull together, they move the European market.
February gains of more than 20 percent in hot central Europe and a resurgent Germany boosted European sales 8.7 percent to 1.18 million units in February. That was enough to turn Europe's year-to-date from negative to positive, up 3.8 percent to 2.49 million new passenger vehicles.
Central Europe has been strong for two years as increasing prosperity fuels car purchases there.
But Germany's resurgence follows a dismal 2007. Consumers stayed away from dealerships after the value-added tax on car purchases was raised to 19 percent from 16 percent on Jan. 1, 2007. But even compared with 2006, German sales are higher in the first two months this year.
Among Europe's other top markets, only France is higher in the first two months of 2008 than in the same period of 2007. Italy's 5.5 percent decline from a year earlier was similar to declines in the United Kingdom and Spain.
The buoyant European market helped most manufacturers. Among the big groups, only Toyota, General Motors and Ford lost volume in the first two months.
On a percentage basis, BMW Group led the gainers among European automakers, up 19.6 percent to 123,369. The BMW brand recorded a double-digit increase, but the entry-level brand Mini rose 41.2 percent on the introduction of the Clubman wagon.
The Volkswagen brand led its group to an above-the-market gain despite virtually flat sales for sister brands Audi, Seat and Skoda.