MILAN, Italy (Bloomberg) -- European car sales rose for the first time in 19 months as a gain in consumer sentiment in countries using the euro led to rebounds in Germany and Spain.
Registrations in April increased 2 percent to 1.08 million vehicles from 1.06 million cars a year earlier, the Brussels-based European Automobile Manufacturers' Association, or ACEA, said today in a statement.
Four-month sales fell 7 percent to 4.18 million vehicles.
Germans and Spaniards bought more cars as the two countries were among those in the euro area where consumer confidence rose in April, counter to economists' predictions of a decline.
Still, the European auto market is at a two-decade low, and industry executives are forecasting a drop of about 5 percent for 2013 amid a recession in the 17-nation euro zone.
"Hopefully the worst is over," said Hans-Peter Wodniok, an analyst at Fairesearch GmbH in Kronberg, Germany. "For the rest of this year, the market will probably be less negative than it was before," with "no more dramatic falls" in the southern part of the region.
Car sales in Europe last month rose the most at Daimler AG, which posted an 11 percent jump as demand for A- and B-Class compact models propelled a 13 percent increase at the Mercedes- Benz luxury brand.
Registrations at Volkswagen AG, the regional market leader, increased 10 percent, pushed by an 9 percent gain at the premium Audi division.
Sales at Paris-based PSA Peugeot Citroen, the region's second-biggest auto manufacturer, dropped 10 percent in April, easing from plunges of as much as 16 percent earlier this year.
Ford Motor Co. posted a 0.6 percent sales decline in Europe last month. Regional sales at BMW AG, the world's biggest manufacturer of luxury cars, fell 3 percent.
General Motors' European sales declined 4 percent in April, led by a 28 percent plunge at the Chevrolet brand. The company's regional nameplates of Opel and Vauxhall increased their registrations 2 percent.
Fiat S.p.A. posted a 10 percent drop, dragged down by declines at the Alfa Romeo and Jeep divisions.
The ACEA's figures include registrations in the 27-nation European Union as well as Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.
Car sales in the region fell 8.7 percent in January and 10 percent in February and March.
Regional car sales last month were helped by the most of the Easter holiday shifting to March this year from April in 2012.
The decline may resume for the rest of this year, though at a slower rate than in the earlier months, according to estimates by IHS Automotive Research.
Auto sales in Germany, Europe's biggest economy, rose 4 percent in April, ending five months of drops.
Registrations surged 15 percent last month in the United Kingdom, the only car market of Europe's top five to grow in 2012, and 11 percent in Spain. French auto sales fell 5 percent and demand in Italy dropped 11 percent.
"The recovery of sales in Germany is positive and may be an indication that consumers are getting back into the market on signs that austerity in Europe may be close to an end," Gian Primo Quagliano, head of automotive research company CSP in Bologna, Italy, said before the ACEA released figures. "When the car market changes direction, the reason is never just related to technical calendar effects."
Renault SA posted a 5 percent increase in European deliveries as its Dacia brand boosted sales by 28 percent.
The manufacturer is forecasting that the region's car market will shrink 5 percent this year, with demand "slightly better" in the remaining three quarters than in the first, COO Carlos Tavares told reporters on May 14.
The French carmaker is broadening its product range by reviving the Alpine sports-car label and developing the Initiale Paris insignia into a full-fledged luxury brand.
Nissan Motor Co., the French company's Japanese partner, sold 7 percent more autos in Europe.
Among other Asian carmakers, sales in Europe rose 5 percent at Toyota Motor Corp., the world's biggest auto manufacturer, and 2 percent at Hyundai Motor Co.
Gross domestic product in the euro area contracted 0.2 percent in the three months through March, extending the recession in the bloc to a record sixth quarter.
At the same time, German trade pushed a gain in first-quarter exports by euro countries. In contrast to record unemployment in the zone overall, German joblessness is at close to a two-decade low.
The euro bloc's economy is forecast to stagnate in three months through June and return to growth in the third quarter, according to a Bloomberg News survey of economists.
Policy makers have been signaling that they may take steps to revive growth following government austerity measures to counter a sovereign-debt crisis. Italy's cabinet is scheduled to meet today, when it may lay out measures on taxes and employment.
The European Central Bank cut its benchmark interest rate to a record low of 0.5 percent on May 2 to rekindle economic growth in the euro area.
ECB President Mario Draghi said borrowing costs may be reduced further if the economic outlook deteriorates.
"Auto demand should benefit from credit easing" by the ECB, Andrew Garthwaite, an analyst at Credit Suisse, said in a report today. "The current level of confidence is consistent with auto sales some 14 percent above current levels," said Garthwaite, who raised his recommendation on auto-industry stocks to overweight from benchmark, the equivalent of hold.