European sales rose 6.5 percent in May, according to early estimates. All major markets improved on May 1998 sales.
Germany continued to grow, with sales up almost 7 percent. The UK's 3 percent growth was unexpected, said analyst Arthur Maher at JD Power/LMC. Because twice-yearly registration plate change which began in March, some observers thought April and May sales would be lower than previous years.
'This suggests the manufacturers need to radically revise their forecasts for the year,' said Maher.
Earlier this year, analysts feared that UK sales could drop as low as 2 million units. Maher now thinks they could reach 2.2 million.
French sales rose 8.3 percent to 148,630 cars in May. This was a slight slowing of the growth rate of the past few months. PSA, with a 1.9 percent rise, lagged well behind the market due to weakness at Citroen. Renault sales climbed 9 percent.
With a rise of 15.8 percent, the Volkswagen group was the fastest-growing mass manufacturer in France.
Sales in Italy rose 2.3 percent.