Europeans are increasingly using their cellphones for satellite navigation in cars, directly threatening the personal navigation industry, research firm comScore said Friday.

Competition for satellite navigation users has increased this year as the world's largest cellphone maker Nokia in January followed Google in starting to offer free navigation on phones.

In February 21.1 million consumers in five large European markets -- Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Italy -- used their cellphones for navigation, 68 percent more than a year ago, comScore said.

This compares to 20.4 million personal navigation devices sold in those markets in 2008 and 2009 in total, according to research firm GfK.

Personal navigation device makers like TomTom and Garmin

have seen in-car navigation as their stronghold, but comScore said cars are already the most common place to use cellphone navigation.

Some 68 percent of cellphone navigation users accessed the service in a car or other vehicle, with 27 percent doing so while walking, running or cycling, the research firm said.

ComScore said mobile subscribers using handsets with advanced positioning technology, known as assisted GPS (A-GPS), are even more likely to use maps in a vehicle. The A-GPS technology is increasingly common in smartphones.

The higher incidence of A-GPS usage in cars suggests that the superior speed and precision in these devices are being used for more than just identifying locations -- they are being used as full in-car navigation systems, comScore analyst Alistair Hill said in a statement.

That these services offer similar functionality to premium services without the significant price-tag has certainly contributed to their early success, said Hill.

(Editing by Sharon Lindores)