April 16, 2015 / 6:04 AM / 3 years ago

Mid-market car brands surge with European market upturn

PARIS, April 16 (Reuters) - Europe’s auto-market recovery gained a firmer footing in March, according to industry data published on Thursday, as mid-market brands bounced back and no-frills “crisis car” sales slowed.

Registrations rose 10.8 percent to 1.65 million cars across the region last month, the Brussels-based Association of European Carmakers said in a statement, taking the first-quarter expansion to 8.5 percent.

After months of hesitant growth, the upturn appears to be firing on all cylinders with the five biggest markets - Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain - all posting solid gains.

“All major markets contributed positively to the overall expansion,” the European industry association said.

Mid-market models, which had suffered most in a prolonged slump that ended last year, outpaced the budget stablemates that had eclipsed them during the crisis, when frugality reigned.

The Renault brand saw sales jump 11.6 percent in March, while the French carmaker’s low-cost Dacia cars posted a lesser gain of 7.5 percent.

A 6.4 percent sales increase at Volkswagen’s spartan Skoda division was outshone by the core VW badge - which saw registrations surge 11.5 percent. Even FCA’s downtrodden Fiat lineup produced 13.7 percent growth.

Ford, a middle-of-the-road badge par excellence, recorded healthy gains of 8.9 percent in March and 7.4 percent for the quarter, after years of European pain.

U.S. rival General Motors meanwhile recorded a more modest 4.3 percent gain for its European Opel marque.

The Detroit-based carmaker nonetheless predicted last week that rebounding European demand would power a return to regional profit in 2016, offsetting deep losses in Russia.

Reporting by Laurence Frost; Editing by Christian Plumb

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