European new car sales rose 0.7% in 2006, or by 103,227 units, to 15,545,613, according to UK-based analyst Jato Dynamics.

The number crunchers there concluded Germany remained largest European market, with sales up 3.8% to 3,468,028, while the Volkswagen Golf was top selling car model in that country.

Italy was second place with sales up 3.6% to 2,347,758 units. The United Kingdom fell from second to third largest European market as sales dropped 3.9% to 2,344,864 and the best selling model – again – was Ford’s Focus.

At the other end of the scale, Lithuania was the smallest market, with 14,234 sales, and Latvia grew fastest with a 51.8% to 25,582 units.

Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Ireland, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Sweden and the Netherlands all also posted increased sales.

Volkswagen was top-selling brand, Jato calculated, attributing that to several well-received new models – the Passat, Jetta, Fox, EOS and Golf Plus – while the top ten was completed by General Motors Europe’s Opel/Vauxhall, Renault, Ford, Peugeot, Citroen, Fiat, Toyota, Mercedes and BMW.

Among the top 10, Fiat recorded the largest increase in sales with an 18.7% rise due mainly to strong sales of the Grande Punto, as well as the Croma, Sedici, an expanded Panda range and the face-lifted Doblo.

Europe’s best selling model last year was the GME Opel/Vauxhall Astra, which successfully knocked the VW Golf off the top spot. The Renault Clio was second and the Ford Focus – the Golf is now fourth.

New models that Jato reckoned were well received in Europe during 2006 included the Peugeot 207, Toyota Aygo, Peugeot 107, Citroën C1, Nissan Note, Alfa-Romeo 159, Volkswagen Jetta, Ford S-Max, Audi Q7, Suzuki SX4, Volkswagen Eos, Fiat Sedici, Skoda Roomster, Citroën C4 Picasso, Mercedes-Benz R-Class, Chevrolet Captiva and the Dodge Caliber.