Toyota Motor Europe is sticking to its growth target for Europe in 2012 despite a contraction to sales in the first quarter.

Toyota has announced first quarter sales in Europe of 218,490 vehicles, down 6.4% from the same period in 2011.

Toyota says that the decline is in line with the contracting European automotive market (and that is supported by figures out this week that show West European car sales down by 8.6% in the first quarter). The sales result includes 207,211 Toyota and 11,279 Lexus vehicles, representing a 10% year-on-year sales increase for Lexus.

Toyota said its renewed core models performed particularly well with sales of the third generation Yaris up 11.7% and the New Avensis up 7.2%.

Daniele Schillaci, Senior Vice-President of TME Sales & Marketing, said: “Despite the unstable macroeconomic conditions in Europe, we remain confident that we will sell more cars this year. We will achieve our sales target of 835,000 units thanks to a good balance between our sales in Eastern and Western Europe. Furthermore, throughout the year we will be adding new and renewed vehicles to our model line-up.”

He added: “We are already seeing encouraging signs from our customers with a welcomed sales growth of our renewed core models. Even though our first quarter result is slightly lower than last year, our outlook for the remainder of the year is positive. Already in March, we exceeded last year’s market share of 4.7%.”

Toyota’s third generation Yaris saw European sales of 50,700 units in the first quarter, up 11.7% from 2011. On April 10, production began for the Yaris Hybrid in France, bringing Toyota’s full hybrid technology to the B-segment for the first time in Europe.

Toyota said that also performing strongly is the New Avensis with sales of 19,749 units, up 7.2%. The Toyota Verso-S also performed well with sales reaching 7,283 units.

First quarter sales for Lexus were up 10% thanks to the incremental impact of the Lexus CT 200h, launched in Q1 last year. The premium C-segment model saw first quarter sales of 5,754 units. March was also the first month of sales of the all-new Lexus GS 350 AWD in Russia, Ukraine and Israel with positive results, Toyota said.

Toyota Europe President and CEO Didier Leroy told just-auto last month that Toyota Europe that he believed Toyota's targets for this year were conservative despite the difficult market.

“Two years ago we sold 808,000 units in Europe. Last year it was 822,000. Our plan this year, even with this very difficult market condition, is to achieve 835,000 units in Europe,” Leroy said in an interview with just-auto at the Geneva Show.

“We are quite conservative. We know it is a difficult market, that our competitors will be aggressive because they have excess capacity and stocks. We want to continue to grow and we will grow in a profitable way. We will not push cars to the market and the business of Toyota in Europe in 2012 will be fully profitable.”

See also: GENEVA INTERVIEW: Toyota Europe CEO eyes sales and profitability gains in 2012