Europe needs swagger

European car sales rise 5.7% in March but Volkswagen brand dips


European new car sales rose 5.7 percent last month, industry data showed on Friday, despite a fall in sales for Volkswagen's core brand and fewer trading days in March due to Easter.

Sales of VW brand models slumped 4 percent in January but returned to growth in February suggesting the impact from the diesel emissions scandal was beginning to wane.

But demand fell 1.6 percent in March, according to the European auto industry association ACEA, despite the brand recording its best performance in Britain, Europe's second largest car market, since September.

There were fewer trading days in March due to Easter, which fell in April in 2015, but VW's mass-market brand rivals Peugeot, Ford and General Motors' Opel/Vauxhall all grew, with sales up 2 percent, 0.6 percent and 6.4 percent respectively.

Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Overall, registrations rose to 1.745 million cars from 1.652 a year earlier, according to data for the European Union (EU) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

In the first three months of the year, registrations increased 8.1 percent to 3.932 million vehicles compared to the same period in 2015.

Nearly every European country recorded growth last month but sales fell 0.7 percent in Spain and dipped marginally in Germany, the continent's biggest automotive market.

Italy recorded the strongest rise of any major market with demand rising 17.4 percent followed by France where sales increased 7.5 percent.

The ACEA said EU sales rose for the 31st month in a row in March hitting levels close to those recorded in 2007, shortly before the economic crisis began to hit the car industry.

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