CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said French car sales fell 6.2 percent. In fact sales increased by 6.2 percent.
New-car sales in western Europe rose by 6.9 percent to 1.18 million in May after strong growth in Germany offset declines in other markets.
German car sales increased by 22 percent to 304,543 last month, compared with the year before, giving a 3.3 million-unit annualized selling rate for May, according to J.D. Power Automotive Forecasting's U.K. office.
In the first five months, 1.33 million new cars were registered in Germany, up 13.1 percent from the year before. The result reflects an economy that is helping lead the economic recovery in Europe and strong business and consumer confidence, J.D. Power said in a statement.
French car sales rose 6.2 percent to 197,784 registrations, as for the second month sales figures reflected the end of government incentives to replace old models. The annualized selling rate is "subdued" at 2.04 million units, J.D. Power said.
"The selling rate though indicates that the market is facing a weaker period now that registrations no longer include a boost from the 2010 scrappage scheme that continued to assist the market in the first quarter of 2011. This subdued activity will continue in the months to come," the forecasters said.
Sales in Spain fell 23.3 percent in May to 78,870, the eleventh straight month of declines after the removal of government subsidies last July. The Spanish market's annualized selling rate crept higher for May but still remains below 900,000 units, J D Power said.
Italy rise 'illusory'
Italy saw a 3.4 percent rise in May registrations, to 170,603. Italy's sales rebound came after sales had been in decline following the end of government scrappage subsidies in March 2010. The annualized selling rate "was far from strong" at 1.86 million, the forecasters said.
Federauto, the federation of Italian car dealers, called the May upturn "illusory," since it included thousands of vehicles which were self-registered by automakers and dealers to reach the set sales targets, but not sold to customers.
In the UK, new car registrations fell by 1.7 percent to 150,431. The drop was the smallest decline since last July, thanks to an improvement in business and fleet sales. The annualized sales rate was 2.06 million units.
J D Power forecasts western European sales of 13.06 million for 2011, up 0.6 percent from 2010, but still well below the pre-crisis level of 14.8 million in 2007.
"The selling rate climbed to 13.2 million units. We continue to assume any production shortages relating to the Japanese disaster will not have a major impact on the western Europe car market, with any negative impact on sales relating to this made up for later in the year," J.D. Power said.