LONDON (Reuters) – British new-car sales rose by an annual 3.3 percent to 142,322 registrations in April, a stronger-than-expected reading that pointed to improved consumer demand, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders industry body said on Friday.
Total car sales between January and April rose by 1.4 percent to 705,878 from a year earlier.
The SMMT said it was raising its full-year car sales forecast to 1.948 million units, 0.4 percent higher than the 1.941 million cars sold in 2011.
The figures suggest that the underlying economy may be stronger than the picture of mild recession painted by official economic data last month.
"We are seeing a steady increase in consumer confidence with growth in private demand, boosted by the arrival of a raft of new products," said SMMT CEO Paul Everitt.
Last month, the SMMT reported a 1.8 percent annual rise in car registrations for March - a key month when many purchases are made due to a twice-yearly change in vehicle number plates.
British car sales are still nearly a fifth below their level before the financial crisis.
Germany, France, Italy, Spain
The UK joined Germany in bucking the downward trend in car sales last month. Registrations in Europe's biggest market rose 3 percent to 274,066 in April. In the first four months, registrations increased 2 percent to 1.05 million.
The UK's April rise in car sales contrasted with France, Italy and Spain where volumes dropped last month as most of Europe continued to suffer the effects of an economic downturn that kept buyers out of showrooms.
French light-vehicle registrations dropped 1 percent to 200,806, a slowdown compared with the 22 percent plunge in March. Italian sales fell 18 percent to 129,633, while in Spain, new-car sales declined 22 percent to 56,250.
Automotive News Europe contributed to this report