May 13, 2016 / 6:06 AM / a year ago

European car sales up 9 percent in April, VW brand back to growth

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Volkswagen cars are loaded in a delivery tower at the plant of German carmaker in Wolfsburg, Germany, April 28, 2016.Fabrizio Bensch

MILAN (Reuters) - European car sales rose 9 percent in April, industry data showed on Friday, with nearly all auto manufacturers recording sales increases and Volkswagen's (VOWG_p.DE) namesake brand back to growth despite its diesel emissions scandal.

New passenger car registrations in the European Union and European Free Trade Association increased to 1.3 million vehicles last month, according to the Brussels-based Association of European Carmakers (ACEA).

"The EU passenger car market posted strong results again, marking the 32nd consecutive month of growth," the industry group said in a statement.

"This is the highest result in volume terms since April 2008, just before the economic crisis hit the automotive industry."

European car sales returned to annual growth in 2014 after a six-year slump during which registrations fell to their lowest in decades. Demand has been growing each month since as an improvement in consumer confidence, retail incentives and new product launches lured customers back to the showrooms.

Last month's growth was mainly driven by German carmakers Daimler (DAIGn.DE) and BMW (BMWG.DE), rising 21.6 percent and 11.7 percent, respectively, thanks to the popularity of their Mercedes and MINI brands, and by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) (FCHA.MI).

Registrations from the FCA stable jumped 13.6 percent, boosted by strong sales of Jeeps, with European registrations of the SUV brand rising 21.8 percent in April.

Overall group sales at Volkswagen, Europe's biggest carmaker, rose 5.3 percent and demand for its core brand was back in growth, rising 2.6 percent in April after dipping 1.6 percent the previous month.

However, the group's market share in the region slipped to 25.4 percent from 26.2 percent as it continued to pay the price of its diesel emissions test-rigging scandal.

Other mass market brands grew, but at a single-digit rate, with deliveries from France's PSA Peugeot Citroen (PEUP.PA) and Renault <RENA.PA up 5.6 percent and 5.3 percent, respectively, and those from U.S. group Ford (F.N) rising 4 percent.

Registrations from the Opel Group, the European division of General Motors (GM.N), grew 6.6 percent.

All five major national markets recorded sales increases last month, led by Spain, where registrations jumped 21.2 percent, followed by Italy, where sales were up 11.5 percent.

In the first four months of the year, European registrations increased 8.3 percent to 5.25 million vehicles, ACEA added.

Reporting by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Nick Zieminski

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