European sales rose by 2.0 percent in August despite a decline in the UK and the late August turmoil in financial markets.
The UK was down by 3.8 percent in the month that accounts for a fourth of the UK's sales.
A spokesman for SMMT, the UK trade association, said 'some buyers are no doubt delaying their new car purchases until after the motor show' in Birmingham in October.
'Until now customers had to wait a year for the next annual letter change' in registration plates, said Alec Murray, a Rover dealer in Manchester. 'Now they will wait only six months. Because of the economic gloom I suspect a lot are saying: Let's hang on for another six months before changing the car.'
Italy also saw a major decline in new-car sales as the scrappage program incentives ran out. The Italian transport ministry said sales fell by 11.4 percent.
'Scrapping incentives boost sales mainly because they anticipate what is the potential demand of the following period,' said Opel dealer Gregorio Fogliano in Biella. 'The incentives are over and we should expect much lower sales.
'In addition, after a period of strong unity to enter the EMU, Italy is now back to a situation of political instability, which has the side effect to decrease the purchase attitude of any social category and of any type of goods.'
In France, sales grew 18.1 percent. Renault sales rose 20.1 percent, with the Clio leading a stable of hot products. Peugeot grew only 2.1 percent in the run-up to the launch of the 206 at the Paris show later this month.
The German car market grew by 5 percent, mostly because of better availability, as some carmakers worked over normal August holidays. The German order backlog is now about 100,000 units below its April peak.
Spanish car sales rose 13.5 percent to 67,378 in August according to the Spanish Trade Association ANFAC.
Ian Morton contributed