March was a more difficult month for the European car market, with drop of 9.7% (175,738 units) compared to the same month last year, posting a total sales volume of 1,631,810 units.

"It's disappointing to see such a large percentage drop during March but it's hardly surprising in view of the difficult economic climate that is prevailing in some of the core European markets", said Nasir Shah of UK analysts Jato.

"Additionally, the March market wasn't helped by the early arrival of the Easter holiday and the corresponding reduction in available trading days."

Thanks to the relatively strong market in the first two months of the year, the year-to-date figures were more favourable, with the market down only 1.9% (81,238 units) on last year, to total year-to-date sales of 4,093,307 units.

Shah noted: "In some respects the March figures are greater than they might otherwise have been thanks to the UK's registration plate change during the month. This is a peak sales month in the UK and always has the effect of inflating the March figures in Europe."

Brands

Volkswagen continued its dominance of the European market, heading the sales league in both March and year-to-date, ahead of Ford, Opel/Vauxhall, Renault and Peugeot.

With the market depressed, most brands suffered reduced sales volumes in March. However, those that recorded increased registrations compared to March 2007 posted significant increases, with Nissan up 38.1%, Mini up 21.8%, Dacia up 26.9%, Smart up 91.0%, Dodge up 57.9% and Maserati up 80%.

Year-to-date there were more success stories, including Fiat up 3.2%, BMW up 7.4%, Honda up 1.5%, Mazda up 6.8% and Kia up 4.8% .

Models

The Peugeot 207 continued to perform outstandingly well and was again Europe's top-selling new car in March with 46,500 units registered, ahead of the Ford Fiesta (45,666 units), Volkswagen Golf (45,484 units), Opel/Vauxhall Corsa (45,459 units), Ford Focus (45,274 units), Opel/Vauxhall Astra (43,794 units), Renault Clio (39,123 units), Fiat Punto (32,890 units), BMW 3-Series (29,397 units) and Volkswagen Polo (29,356 units).

The Fiesta's performance was particularly impressive given the publicity surrounding its replacement model following its reveal at the Geneva show at the start of March.

Year-to-date, the Golf still clinches to the top spot (up 20.4% YtD), followed by the 207 (up 6.7% YtD), Corsa, Focus, Astra, Fiesta, Clio, Punto, Polo (up 1.0% YtD) and Toyota Yaris.

National Trends

The European market in March is dominated by the UK registration plate change, but this year the 0.5% increase in UK registrations was not enough to offset the 14.3% fall in Germany, 18.6% fall in Italy and 28.1% fall in Spain. Many other markets also recorded significantly reduced car markets in March.

In percentage terms, Lithuania remained the rising star of the European market, up 51.2% in March and up 67.6% in quarter one. Strong first quarter growth was also recorded in the Czech Republic, Finland, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.