* Germany has 3rd monthly sales gain in past 4 months
* January 7.2 pct gain highest since Sept 2011
* But January growth reflects generous discounts
(Adds official figures, discount index and VDA comment)
By Andreas Cremer
BERLIN, Feb 4 New car sales in Germany posted
their highest gain in more than two years in January,
reinforcing signs that Europe's auto market may turn the corner
in 2014 after a six-year slump.
Registrations in the home market of Volkswagen,
BMW and Daimler rose 7.2 percent to 206,000
passenger cars, the VDIK German auto importers' association said
It is the strongest monthly percentage gain since an 8
percent increase to 280,700 vehicles in September 2011. VDIK
predicted the "positive trend" will continue in coming weeks.
The third monthly gain since last October in Europe's top
car market echoes improvements in France, Italy and Spain, which
all published higher registrations for January on Monday.
Polish new car sales reached a 22-month high, an industry
monitor said on Monday.
Sales growth may have even been higher as January included
one working day less than a year ago, Germany's VDA auto
industry association said. German car exports were up 9 percent
in January to 338,700 autos, the highest level for that month
since 2008, according to VDA.
But solid growth in Germany was in part attributable to
generous price discounts, reflecting caution among experts and
executives that underlying auto demand is anything but robust.
VW and General Motors' Chevrolet and Opel brands
increased discounts in Germany last month, according to a
monthly index by the Center of Automotive Research at the
University of Duisburg-Essen. January's reading was 130, up from
126 a year earlier.
"Incentives are the name of the game," said Ernst-Robert
Nouvertne, who runs two VW dealerships near Cologne. "Headline
sales are looking good but profit per car is crumbling. The
(German) market is still pretty strained."
"It's pleasant to see that the stabilization of the German
market is continuing at the start of 2014 but we should remain
only cautiously optimistic," VDA president Matthias Wissmann
said, noting that last month's gain is helped by the low level
of sales a year earlier.
Still, registrations in Germany may rise for the first time
in three years in 2014 to about 3 million cars, from 2.95
million last year, the country's VDA industry association said
on Dec. 3, citing a recovery that took hold last summer.
Germany's KBA federal motor authority has delayed
publication of brand-by-brand data for technical reasons.
(Reporting by Andreas Cremer and Jan Schwartz.; Editing by Mark
Potter and Louise Heavens)