Volkswagen AG and General Motors’ Opel brand led the first increase in European car sales in 11 months as new models attracted buyers in markets such as Germany, France and Poland.

Registrations in the region rose 1.4 percent in February from a year earlier to 1.01 million vehicles, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association said today in a statement. Sales by the VW group rose 9.1 percent, while Detroit-based GM sold 8.3 percent more cars, reported Bloomberg. Fiat SpA, Ford Motor Co. and PSA Peugeot Citroen all lost sales compared with the same month in 2010, according to the statement.

Demand in Germany and France, the two largest auto markets in the European Union, expanded 15 percent and 13 percent, respectively. In 10 central and eastern European countries that have joined the EU since 2004, sales increased 13 percent, accelerating from 7.4 percent growth in January.

“European markets began to stabilize last year, and that stabilization seems to be broadening to the region’s periphery,” said Christoph Stuermer, a Frankfurt-based analyst at IHS Automotive who estimates industry sales will resume growth this year. “It’s too early to make a definite call before March, and we’ll have to see whether the events in Japan will affect production chains in coming months” as manufacturers work to recover from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Fiat, Renault SA, Peugeot and VW are among carmakers that have been wooing customers with price cuts, cheaper financing or free options as government “cash-for-clunkers” incentives expired during the economic recovery. State assistance has helped European manufacturers avoid factory closures on a scale seen in the U.S., leaving the industry with overcapacity across the region.

Car-market growth was held back by declines of 21 percent in Italy, 28 percent in Spain and 7.7 percent in the U.K., according to the Brussels-based association, or ACEA.

“We’re seeing a revival in countries that, like Germany, are benefiting from good economic data,” said Stefan Bratzel, director of the Center of Automotive Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany. “You also have to consider the base effect from the car- scrapping incentives that have run out. I’d be careful to characterize this as a turnaround.”

Volkswagen’s preferred shares rose as much as 2.9 percent to 112.50 euros, the biggest intraday gain since Feb. 28, and were up 2.2 percent as of 10:15 a.m. in Frankfurt. Shares of Renault, which posted a 3.1 percent European sales increase in February, rose as much as 2.8 percent in Paris.

VW, Europe’s largest carmaker, sold 226,126 vehicles for a market share of 22 percent, including the Audi, Skoda and Seat brands. The Wolfsburg, Germany-based manufacturer, which introduced a new version of its Passat model in November, aims to overtake Toyota Motor Corp. as the global leader by 2018.

Renault, the Boulogne-Billancourt, France-based carmaker that plans online sales of its Dacia vehicles, increased European registrations last month to 113,342 cars. Its larger French peer Peugeot sold 141,894 vehicles in the region, 5 percent fewer than a year earlier. Fiat, with headquarters in Turin, Italy, saw deliveries drop 17 percent to 76,808, including Lancia and Alfa Romeo cars.

Opel, the GM brand aiming to return to profit this year excluding restructuring costs, surged 8.9 percent to 72,542 cars sold, while Chevrolet also increased registrations. Nick Reilly, head of Ruesselsheim, Germany-based Opel and its U.K. sister brand Vauxhall, said at the Geneva motor show in early March that a revamped Meriva minivan and the Astra Sports Tourer are helping win market share and growth in profitability.

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