PARIS/BERLIN Car sales in France and Spain rose for the fifth straight month in January, suggesting the recovery in Europe's autos market is strengthening following a six-year slump.
The figures add to broader signs the European economy is emerging from a protracted period of weakness which weighed heavily on consumer demand, particularly in the debt-laden southern countries of the region.
Sales of new cars in Spain, Europe's No. 5 autos market, increased 7.6 percent year on year last month to 53,436 vehicles, car manufacturers' association Anfac said on Monday, helped by government subsidies.
In France, Europe's third-largest car market, new registrations edged up 0.5 percent to 125,477 cars, industry association CCFA said, keeping its forecast for stable to slightly higher car sales in the country this year.
"The European car market is beginning to slowly head in the right direction," said Jonathon Poskitt, head of European forecasting for LMC Automotive, predicting western European sales to grow 3 percent to 11.85 million vehicles in 2014.
Swedish new car sales surged by 19 percent in January, added Bil Sweden, whose members represent 99 percent of all new registrations in the country.
In France, Renault's (RENA.PA) sales rose 12.4 percent to 34,151 cars, helped by its new Captur mini-SUV and no-frills Dacia models. That lifted the group's share of its home market to 27.22 percent from 24.35 percent.
Larger French rival Peugeot (PEUP.PA), which is seeking a tie-up with China's Dongfeng as its struggles to halt European losses and expand overseas, recorded a more modest 6 percent rise in sales.
Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE), Europe's biggest carmaker, saw its French sales decline 9.1 percent in January to 15,286 cars. Sales by General Motors (GM.N) fell 8.3 percent.
South Korea's Hyundai (005380.KS) and affiliate Kia (000270.KS) reported a combined 27 percent sales drop, but Toyota's (7203.T) registrations rose 10.5 percent.
French delivery van sales fell 7.7 percent to 27,388 vehicles in January, the CCFA, taking total light vehicle registrations to 152,865, a 1 percent decline.
Italy is expected to publish car sales data later on Monday while Europe's top market Germany is due to release January delivery figures on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Gilles Guillaume, Andreas Cremer and Fiona Ortiz.; Editing by Geert De Clercq and Mark Potter)