The European car market stayed in top gear in February with a 2.1 per cent rise in registrations.
The surge equated to 22,599 extra vehicles leaving the showrooms last month, bringing the total to 1,079,101, figures from Acea, the Brussels-based European carmakers' association, showed.
It maintained the improvement seen in the 26 European Union and EFTA markets since the start of the year.
Higher demand in Italy and France helped to offset weaker markets in Germany, Britain and Spain, keeping the sector's sales recovery patchy after 2005 ended with a whimper.
"With an almost equal number of working days throughout the region, these figures seem to confirm an encouraging start of the year," Acea said.
Fiat led the advance. New registrations for the group rose by 11.5 per cent year-on-year on the back of an increase of nearly 18 per cent in its core brand.
Volkswagen group also m aintained momentum thanks to a freshened product lineup. It generated a 9.1 per cent rise in new car registrations, led by 15.2 per cent growth at the key VW brand.
Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, head of the B&D Forecast consulting group, said a host of new models and export-driven economic growth in Europe could add around 100,000 units of sales this year, but would not necessarily translate into higher profits.
"Margins are still under heavy fire. If you look at the special offers available in Germany, they are still at a very high level," he said, noting it was possible to get 26 or 27 per cent discount off the list price for a Citroen.
Even the premium segment is feeling the margin squeeze amid chronic overcapacity in the sector, he added.
Land Rover was again the star performer among British manufacturers last month, with a 14 per cent increase that brought its sales tally to 4,138 units.
The Solihull company, which has been doing well with the new Discovery and the Range Rover Sport, was 13.3 per cent ahead over the first two months of 2006 with sales of 11,721.
Jaguar, like Land Rover part of Ford's Premier Auto-motive Group stable of European luxury brands, stayed firmly in reverse.
The unit has a policy of pursuing margin rather than volume in a tough luxury sector, and that translated into sales of 1,745 in February, nearly 20 per cent fewer than in the same month last year. Year-to-date sales were 16 per cent down at 4,934. Jaguar should, however, start to see some improvement when sales of the well-received new XK sports car start trickling through into the figures.
Peugeot, which builds the 206 at its under-threat Ryton factory, gained four per cent last month and Toyota, which produces European versions of the Corolla and the Avenis at Burnaston, end the month three per cent ahead.
Mini continued to suffer from interruptions to production caused by a multi-million upgrade to BMW's Oxford plant.
Sales dipped by 14 per cent to 6,060 in February and were 19 per cent adrift at 13,551 over the first two months of the year. MG Rover still figures in the official sales data, even though production stopped at Longbridge nearly a year ago.
Dealers with old stock on the their hands managed to find 2,161 buyers in January and February.
Italy was the most dynamic big car market last month, with registrations up six per cent to 209,500, but in Europe's biggest single market, Germany, numbers fell by two per cent to below 216,000 with severe winter weather held to blame.
Subdued consumer sentiment in Britain and a 12 per cent drop in car sales to retail customers contributed to a 1.4 per cent decline to about 76,000.