BMW Group sales were up 4 percent with a 7 percent increase at BMW brand countering a 10 percent drop in Mini sales. Mercedes' group sales rose 4 percent with Mercedes brand sales rising 5 percent and Smart falling 7 percent.
Among Europe's five biggest markets, only France saw a fall in new-car sales with registrations down 1 percent, showing that a fragile recovery in the region is gaining momentum. German registrations rose by 4 percent, the UK was up 3 percent and Italy 9 percent. Deliveries in fifth-place Spain jumped 18 percent because of a government program designed to bolster sales by encouraging trade-ins of older vehicles for cars with lower emissions.
From survival to revival
Automotive executives and analysts are predicting that industrywide European car sales will expand by about 2 percent this year but they see discounting as a continuing problem.
Carlos Da Silva, manager of European light vehicle sales forecast at IHS Automotive, said the February increase confirms that the long-awaited rebound of the European market is on track and automakers can move "from survival to revival mode."
The recovery appeared to be consistent and is well-spread. "All countries and all manufacturers are performing much better," Da Silva said, warning that sales were still inflated by heavy discounting.
Jens Schattner, a Frankfurt-based automotive analyst at Macquarie Group, said the key problem was that future growth may be driven by aggressive pricing. Prior to U.S. automakers seeking bankruptcy protection in 2009, "the volumes were fantastic, but the underlying profitability was a disaster. We're exactly in the same situation, with overcapacity still there," he said.
Hyundai Europe'sregional head, Allan Rushforth, said: "The industry is still faced with record-high incentive levels and artificially inflated sales. It's too early to be celebrating a recovery in the European car market."
Dealer discounts in Germany widened to an average 11.7 percent of the list price last month from 11 percent in January, according to trade publication Autohaus PulsSchlag. Manufacturers offering the steepest price cuts included Renault and PSA, followed by Fiat, Ford and Opel, the magazine's figures show. VW and Audi placed sixth and eighth in discounting.
Erich Hauser, a London-based automotive analyst at International Strategy and Investment Group, said sales were also pushed by people replacing older vehicles. "Demand has been depressed for so long that it can only go up," he said.