New car registrations in Germany rose 1.8% in the first quarter of 2006 despite severe winter weather and public sector strikes that closed some registry offices, the foreign automakers' lobby said on Friday, according to Reuters.

Calculations by the VDIK association that 770,000 new cars were registered in the period suggest March sales were weak, the news agency noted. Registrations had risen 4.2% in the first two months to just over 439,000 passenger cars, government statistics show.

"We cannot make out at this stage a recovery in the retail market," VDIK chairman Volker Lange told Reuters at the Leipzig car show.

"Fleet registrations are fuelling the growth at the moment, but the overall mood is good. I expect a better second quarter than last year."

Reuters noted that March data from the VDA car industry association and the government motor vehicles agency are due next week and that calendar quirks should help March sales numbers because the long Easter weekend fell in March last year but comes in April this year.

The report said Lange also cited the impact of walkouts by public sector workers staging their biggest strike in more than a decade.

A spokesman for the Verdi services union told Reuters a long strike in the northern state of Bremen had created a massive backlog of registrations and triggered complaints from car companies.

Strikes in Hamburg have affected registry offices there since February and are still going on, while isolated disruptions were reported in Lower Saxony, union officials told the news agency.

Separately, Reuters reported that BMW posted record unit sales of the core BMW brand in Germany during March, beating the previous record from March 1999 and helping first-quarter sales in its domestic market rise at a double-digit rate.

Announcing the news, also in Leipzig, BMW Germany head Ludwig Willisch reportedly said: "New orders are keeping us optimistic."

Germany is the group's second-biggest market and accounts for just over a fifth of overall sales, Reuters noted.

Not to be outdone, Mercedes-Benz told Reuters it had extended its run of strong sales in March.

"We have very positive sales results at Mercedes-Benz in March. Overall we are above the year-earlier numbers in the first quarter," Christoph Koepke said in Leipzig of global sales.

Sales of trucks and buses are also "well under way" in the quarter, he told the news agency. "One should note for the vans business that even though the new Sprinter is starting now, demand for the old model is still good," he added.