The European new car market showed signs of driving out of the doldrums with a 2.6 per cent rise in sales in January.
The increase - from 1.228 million units to 1.259 million - was mainly down to a impressive performance by Volkswagen, the region's biggest carmaker, official figures showed.
Lifted by strong double-digit percentage gains in the main markets of Germany and Italy, it ended a three-month run of declines.
"The figure, although influenced by one extra working day across the entire region, is an encouraging start of the year for the sector," the Brussels-based European automotive association, Acea, said.
January's only blemish was a hefty decline in Britain, where sales dropped last month following the end of a three per cent tax break that had stoked demand for diesel-powered cars in the last days of 2005.
Armed with a fresh model line-up that included the Fox mini and Passat mid-size saloon, VW Group led the charge with a resounding 19.4 per cent rise in new car registrations, helping it boost its share to a fifth of the total market.
Its VW, Audi, and Seat brands racked up doubledigit percentage gains, and its Czech nameplate, Skoda, did not lag far behind with a 9.1 per cent advance.
Italy's Fiat also benefited from robust growth in its domestic market. New registrations for the group rose by 17.9 per cent on the back of a 23.2 per cent increase at its core brand.
Among British-based manufacturers, Land Rover was by far the strongest performer with an increase of 7.6 per cent taking its sales for the month to 7,222.
With a clutch of new models to its name, including Range Rover Sport and the third generation Discovery, Land Rover is enjoying the biggest and most prolonged sales boom in its near-60 year-history, making it the star performer in Ford's Premier Automotive Group stable of luxury European brands.
In contrast, Jaguar, also part of PAG, underlined the long term decline in its sales by posting a 14.8 per cent fall to 3,145 in January.
Jaguar has been hit badly by the fierce competition raging within the luxury car market and is fighting to stem its financial losses by targeting buyers for the high margin, range-topping models in each of its sectors.
And with some 14,000 advance orders for the new Birmingham-built XK sports car on its books, the company should soon be able to report an improvement.
European sales of Mini, built at BMW's Oxford plant, reflected the production lost through an extended festive
season shutdown needed as part of the expansion of the factory to accomodate next year's new model.
Figures fell by 23.4 per cent to 7,483 as dealers temporarily ran short on stocks.
Easily the worst performance of the month came from Renault. A surge in sales of its low-cost Logan could not offset the 20 per cent drop in Renault brand sales in January.
DaimlerChrysler, which yesterday reported operating profit rose to £717 million in the final three months of 2005, likewise struggled. New car registrations of its luxury marque, Mercedes-Benz, sank by nine per cent, and Smart brand sales fell by a fifth.
Asian carmakers, whose well-made and affordable offerings have made aggressive inroads against domestic European brands, had a mixed month.
Honda, which builds Civics for the European market at Swindon, grew faster than the market with nearly nine per cent more cars registered, and Suzuki's figures shot up by more than 40 per cent.
By comparison, Toyota and Nissan fell by 10.8 per cent and 9.2 per cent respectively.