European new-car sales rose 11 percent in March as automakers took advantage of a solid economy and more selling days to lure additional buyers.
Benefiting from the shift in Easter to April, industrywide registrations in the EU and EFTA markets increased to 1.94 million vehicles last month, industry association ACEA said Wednesday.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ford Motor Co. were among the automakers that gained market share at the expense of regional leader Volkswagen Group and No. 2 PSA Group.
VW Group's European sales failed to keep pace with the overall market, rising 6.2 percent in March. That caused its market share to drop to 21.4 percent from 22.4 percent a year earlier. The automaker's diesel-related troubles have persisted more than a year into its emissions-cheating scandal.
PSA, which agreed in March to purchase General Motors' European division, saw its registrations rise 6.7 percent. Its market share narrowed to 16.1 percent from 16.9 percent, including Opel/Vauxhall's volume, underscoring the competitive pressure in the region. Opel/Vauxhall sales grew 3.4 percent.
Ford's sales increased 17 percent, boosted by demand for its Kuga, EcoSport and Edge SUVs. The automaker's market share rose to 8.2 percent from 7.8 percent. Through three months, Ford is the No. 2 brand by sales in Europe after VW brand, displacing Renault, last year's No. 2.
Renault Group sales, including Dacia, increased 14 percent, boosting market share to 9.5 percent, up from 9.2 percent a year earlier. Renault brand sales jumped 16 percent while Dacia's volume grew by 8.8 percent.
Fiat Chrysler, whose Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X have been winning over customers in Europe's growing SUV/crossover segment, increased its market share to 6.8 percent from 6.3 percent after its group sales increased by 18 percent.
Industrywide sales in March grew 3.7 percent to 1.94 million adjusted for extra selling days, analysts Evercore ISI said in a note to investors. The seasonally adjusted selling rate for the month was a "strong" 15.9 million, Evercore said.
"The latest car market result supports the positive news that we have seen from the wider economy" in Europe, Jonathon Poskitt, an analyst with LMC Automotive, said in a report. The seasonally adjusted annual sales pace in western Europe is currently at the highest level since early 2008, he said.
Still, sales growth will likely slow as a recovery from a two-decade low in 2013 loses steam. Annual deliveries in the coming years are expected to fall short of the 2007 peak as more consumers opt for car-sharing and other alternatives to purchasing their own vehicles.
LMC forecasts that western European sales will rise 2.7 percent in 2017, compared with the 7.4 percent gain through the first three months of the year.
Falling unemployment helped buoy consumer confidence in Europe, underpinning auto demand. Even the U.K., Europe's biggest auto market after Germany, has resisted a Brexit-induced slowdown, with sales in the country up 8.4 percent last month. The region's resilient car market is a contrast to the U.S., where vehicle sales unexpectedly declined in March.
Germany posted an 11 percent gain in March. Registrations in France, in the midst of highly contested election, climbed 7 percent. In Italy, deliveries surged 18 percent.
Bloomberg contributed to this report.