* Car sales rise in Germany and Spain
* Year-on-year gains enhanced by Easter shift
* German numbers dispel fears of collapse
By Laurence Frost and Andreas Cremer
PARIS/BERLIN, May 3 Car sales rose in Germany
and Spain last month, industry data showed on Friday, adding to
signs that Europe's austerity-driven auto slump could soon
Spanish car sales jumped 11 percent, partly due to holiday
timing and government incentives. Registrations in Germany, the
region's biggest market, advanced 3.8 percent for the first gain
in six months - and the biggest since December 2011.
The improved numbers built on French data showing the
decline in the third-ranked market slowing to 5.2 percent from a
16 percent fall in March.
Europe's debt crisis, belt-tightening response and record
unemployment have resulted in the longest, deepest auto slump in
With demand near a two-decade low and losses mounting, mass
automakers are searching for signs that this sixth year of
market contraction will be the last.
Many have based survival plans on a decline no bigger than 5
percent for 2013, helped by easier comparisons with a weak
second half of 2012. First-quarter sales were down 9.7 percent.
"We've fallen so far that you'd think we'd hit bottom, and
there are signs we're starting to stabilise," said Nicolas
Lopez, head of research at Madrid-based brokerage M&G Valores.
"Don't expect sales to suddenly rise, but it's hard to fall
much further" he added.
In Spain, the year-on-year comparison was flattered by an
increased number of sales days, because Easter fell in April in
2012 and in March this year. Sales incentives introduced by
Madrid in February also helped.
The Spanish uptick helped Volkswagen, which
posted gains of 32 percent for its namesake brand and 47 percent
for the locally manufactured Seat brand.
Fiat rose 31 percent and General Motors'
Opel was up 23 percent.
ITALY WORSE BUT THERE IS HOPE
Worse off was Italy, one of Europe's hardest hit auto
markets, where the rate of decline more than doubled to 11
percent as political uncertainty hurt sentiment.
But fears of a sustained German slide abated in April.
A year-on-year gain to 284,000 German registrations
confounded Morgan Stanley's expectation of a 7 percent drop,
analyst Stuart Pearson said in a note.
"This marks the highest selling rate since last August and
will ease fears that have built around the market," he said.
Germany's VDIK industry group sees "growing signs that
consumer confidence is firming up", a spokesman said. "This
could mark the beginning of a long-awaited stabilisation."
Even in Italy, where an April 30 confidence vote in new
Prime Minister Enrico Letta filled a two-month political vacuum
left by parliamentary elections, some believe underlying demand
"The end of this exasperating political crisis could mean a
return to optimism," said Gian Primo Quagliano, head of the
Centro Studi Promotor automotive research institute. "We're
seeing a glimmer of recovery."