In what was considered as an improving market, new car sales in Europe have fallen in Q1 2011. While sales were slightly down last year, in Q1 2011, despite an uplift in sales during February, average sales in March fell by 4.6 per cent. According to Mr Gareth Hession, Vice President, Research at Jato Dynamics, there were some positive signals from the industry during the first three months of this year, but the economic instability in some of the more mature automotive markets have hit overall sales. Despite this, it is encouraging to see growth in Central and Eastern Europe, where manufacturers will no doubt be looking to expand further. Investment in vehicles tailored for this region will be crucial to their success there", he adds. Pointing towards national trends, Hession says that only two of the 'big five' markets showed positive growth during Q1 2011: France and Germany were up 8.9 per cent and 13.9 per cent respectively while Great Britain, Italy and Spain were down 8.7 per cent, 23.3 per cent and 27.3 per cent. Of the 'big five' markets, Germany experienced the greatest unit growth in Q1, up 92,993 units, while Italy saw the biggest decline, down 156,269 units. While sales in Central and Eastern Europe have performed consistently well during 2011 as automotive markets expand in the region, the well publicised economic troubles in countries such as Greece and Portugal have been clearly reflected in poor sales for the quarter.In terms of brand performance, Volkswagen maintains its leading position in Europe for the quarter, extending its lead over rivals, with sales increasing 5.7 per cent. In contrast, Fiat saw the biggest decline out of the regions' top ten brands, down 25.3 per cent, largely reflecting the poor performance of its home market, Italy.Outside the top ten brands a number of premium brands have experienced strong sales for the quarter, including Alfa-Romeo and Porsche, up 49.6 per cent and 26.5 per cent respectively, largely due to strong sales of the new Giulietta and latest Cayenne models. This not only demonstrates the importance of investing in new products but also shows the appetite for premium brands, despite continued tough economic conditions. All of the regions' top ten models experienced a decline or no growth in sales during Q1 2011. Volkswagen's Golf maintains its leading position, while second place Ford Fiesta saw the biggest decline in sales, down 27.7 per cent. During March, Volkswagen Polo was the only model to increase sales, up 4.2 per cent, while Ford's Fiesta saw the biggest decline, down 26.9 per cent.