PARIS (Reuters) - The car sales recovery in Western Europe gathered pace in January with a 7.1 percent gain as southern markets including Spain continued to bounce back, according to industry data published on Thursday.
Registrations last month increased to 960,531 cars from 897,008 a year earlier, based on data and estimates compiled by consulting firm LMC Automotive, helped by low oil prices and returning consumer confidence.
This compared with a 4.7 percent gain in December.
The strength of the year-on-year advance partly reflected weaker sales recorded in January 2014, however. Last month's selling rate fell slightly to 12.43 million cars annually from 12.61 million in December, on a seasonally adjusted basis.
"The Western European car market is off to a solid start," LMC analyst Jonathon Poskitt said.
"Consumer confidence in the region is, in general, improving and, with relatively low oil prices assumed to carry on for some time, the economic outlook looks a little brighter."
The data, an aggregation of published registrations and projections for some smaller markets, show a regional advance powered by southern European countries recovering from the deep slump that followed the 2008 financial crisis.
January sales rose 28 percent in Spain and Portugal, and an estimated 42 percent in Greece, LMC said. Spain's recovery will remain a "key component of regional growth this year", Poskitt predicted.
Reporting by Laurence Frost; Editing by James Regan