Sales of new cars in Europe fell 9 percent last month for the 11th consecutive month, a smaller decline than in previous months due to government subsidies to encourage buying, industry association ACEA said yesterday.
In the first quarter, sales were down by 17.2 percent compared with the same quarter last year.
In March, sales rose 39.9 percent year-on-year in Germany because of a government scheme to subsidize consumers who trade in their old cars for a new model.
Similar incentives have been put in place in France and Italy, where sales also rose, but by a smaller amount.
Sales in the UK and Spain fell sharply, down 30.5 and 38.7 percent respectively.
The auto industry is one of the largest and worst-hit industrial sectors in Europe, where the recession resulted in the weakest sales in 15 years last year, with new car registrations plunging 8 percent.
Sales fell 18.3 percent in February and 27 percent in January.
The figures cover 28 European markets, including all members of the EU except Cyprus and Malta, and Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.
Among the manufacturers, the data showed some doing much better than others.
Italian group Fiat, currently in talks to take a stake in struggling US giant Chrysler, enjoyed a bounce of 14.3 percent in sales last month as a result of demand for its Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo models.
Volkswagen remains the number one seller in Europe, but its sales of VW, Audi, Seat and Skoda models fell 0.3 percent in the month.
Sales of luxury German models were down, with BMW off 20.8 percent and Daimler, which owns Mercedes and the city car Smart brand, down 14.6 percent.
French manufacturers Renault, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Japanese rival Toyota and US maker Ford all experienced falls more or less in line with the overall market.
Sales by US-based General Motors, propped up by the US government and in danger of bankruptcy, dropped 20 percent.
In total last month, 1,506,249 new cars were registered.