Car sales in western Europe rose in March for the second consecutive month, with Italy the only country to register a drop, the Association of European Auto Manufacturers said.

According to Associated Press (AP), ACEA said registrations, which mirror sales, were up 6.9% to 1.71 million vehicles in March, partly due to "helpful calendar effects" - there were two more working days in March than in the same month in 2003 in 11 countries and three extra working days in Greece and Portugal.

For the January-March quarter, sales were up 2.9%, the report said, adding that the largest gains came mainly from Europe's smaller markets, such as Greece and Ireland, while Spain continued to do well as other core markets, France, Germany and Britain, also showed signs of recovery.

"In a month in which so much of the other economic news that has been coming out of Europe has hinted at the threat of a stalled recovery, the data on new car sales provide some encouragement," forecaster JDPower-LMC told Associated Press.

The report said demand for new cars rose by 6.6% in Britain, by 5.7% in France and 4.5% in Germany, but Italy was down 8%, reflecting the ending of incentive programmes, a major factor in attracting consumers into showrooms.

The ACEA figures cover new passenger car registrations in the 15-nation European Union, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, AP noted.