As Europe's car market weans itself off the rush of government subsidies, carmakers at the Geneva auto show are finding cause for optimism on a continent overshadowed by heady growth in emerging Asia.
Global automakers have increasingly relied on growth in China, India and the like to offset saturation and sickly sales in their home countries, but a 13.7 percent rise in February car sales in France, a 15 percent jump in German registrations and a 11.7 percent rise in Belgian sales chimed with upbeat noises from Geneva.
Philippe Varin, Chief Executive of PSA Peugeot Citroen, Europe's second-largest carmaker, said on Tuesday that sales so far this year in Europe were a little better than expected.
The carmaker had said European car sales would be flat this year after the end of government incentives to scrap old and buy new.
Toyota Motor Corp, the world's top automaker, said a day earlier that it expected the addition of at least 10 new hybrid models to help drive a rise in European sales to 1 million vehicles by 2013 or 2014, up about a quarter from last year.
Volkswagen's premium brand Audi said on Tuesday it expected to sell more cars in the first three months of 2011 than it had ever managed during a first quarter. It also forecast at least 10 percent sales growth in the U.S. market this year.
U.S. auto sales figures, due later on Tuesday, are expected to rise about 20 percent from the depressed levels of a year earlier, though the recent rise in oil prices could threaten the recovery.
Top U.S. automaker General Motors revealed sales in its home market surged by a higher-than-expected 46 percent in February on lease deals and cash offers.
Recovery in Europe remains a patchy affair, however. In Spain, where the financial crisis took a heavy toll on the economy and a frothy property market, new car sales were down 27.6 percent in February.
Italian sales figures are due out before the U.S. data.
Italy's Fiat last week forecast a 5-10 percent increase in its new car sales this year, with Brazil growth helping to offset weak demand in Europe.
There were mixed fortunes in Asia, too.
Japan's industry-wide auto sales, including 660cc minivehicles, fell 12.4 percent in February to 401,292 vehicles, industry data showed on Tuesday.
Automakers in Japan posted sales declines ranging from 7.8 to 21.3 percent, with Toyota posting the largest decline.
It is too early to say if it (the Japan car market) has entered a solid recovery path or it has hit the bottom. We have to wait to see the sales of March, the biggest sales month, said Michiro Saito, general manager of the Japan Automobile Dealers Association.
Sales at Honda Motor fell 16.1 percent and Nissan Motor fell 7.8 percent.
Sales at India's largest automaker, Maruti Suzuki, rose 15.5 percent in February from a year ago, while sales at Tata Motors grew 12 percent. Sales at Mahindra & Mahindra rose 20 percent.
Sales of the Tata Nano, touted as the world's cheapest car, doubled in February to 8,262 units.
Indian automakers sold 184,332 units in January, up 26.3 percent from a year ago.
Vehicle sales in India, one of the fastest growing auto markets in the world, grew 31 percent in 2010 as the burgeoning middle class in Asia's third-largest economy spurred demand.
That growth is expected to moderate to 15 percent this year amid rising interest rates, fuel prices and vehicle costs.
(Reporting by Neha Singh, Lisa Jucca, Stefano Rebaudo, Gilles Guillaume, Chang-Ran Kim and Helen Massy-Beresford; Additional reporting by Taiga Uranaka in Tokyo and Devidutta Tripathy in Delhi; Editing by Jui Chakravorty, Will Waterman and Elaine Hardcastle)