New-car sales in western Europe increased by 5 percent in 2014, the best result since 2009, but growth will slow this year, according to forecasters LMC Automotive.
The region’s car sales grew to 12.1 million last year on a strong UK market and rebounds in Germany, Italy and Spain.
"The UK market has been the star performer in western Europe," LMC said in a statement.
Western European car sales are still 2.7 million units below their 2007 peak, highlighting the scale of the contraction in sales in the region since the start of the financial crisis, LMC said.
The forecaster predicts that the region’s sales will grow by 3 percent to 12.4 million units this year.
The UK, Europe's second-biggest auto market, led western Europe’s growth in 2014. UK sales increased by 9 percent to 2.48 million units, the market's best annual result since 2004. UK car sales have been boosted by cheap financing, especially in personal contract plans that encourage buyers to trade in their cars every three years. Pent-up demand from lower sales in the aftermath of the financial crisis is also fueling growth.
The SMMT industry association expects UK growth to slow to 2 percent to 3 percent this year as pent-up demand starts to ebb and motorists also face the risk of higher taxes after May's national election.
Sales in Germany, Europe's biggest market, were up 3 percent to 3.04 million last year, the first rise after two years of shrinking sales, but the market remains weak with low consumer confidence. Consultants EY forecasts growth of 1 percent to 2 percent this year.
France, the region's No. 3. market, is largely missing out on the recovery as economic uncertainty continues to hit consumer confidence. French full-year sales increased by 0.3 percent to 1.8 million. The CCFA industry body expects the market to be flat this year.
Italy’s car sales were up 4 percent to 1.36 million vehicles, the first rise in annual sales after a six-year slump, but the lack of economic growth is keeping the market low by historical standards.
Automotive research group Centro Studi Promoto expects Italian car sales to rise 5 percent this year, boosted by a car replacement cycle. The number could easily be surpassed if the government introduced measures to spur demand, it said. Foreign carmakers' association UNRAE sees sales increasing by about 3 percent.
Spain’s auto market has been boosted by a scrappage program to encourage owners to trade in old cars. Full-year sales rose by 18 percent to 855,308 units, the strongest annual growth in 15 years. The market could reach 1 million units this year if the government extends the scrappage program throughout the year, industry association Anfac said.
Reuters contributed to this report