Car makers kicked off reporting for the first quarter with robust sales increases in the region, despite signs the market in the UAE had slowed after a strong performance last year.
Dealers for General Motors (GM), which makes the GMC, Cadillac and Chevrolet models, reported Middle Eastern sales growth of 4 per cent to 31,154 vehicles in the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year.
That performance was GM's best in the region since 2008, and taking sales in Iraq out of the Middle Eastern figures, sales increased more than 30 per cent.
BMW had its best-ever first quarter in the region as dealers sold 6 per cent more cars, with particularly robust sales in Lebanon.
Audi also had its best quarter ever in the region and the UAE. It sold 8 per cent more cars in the country and 12 per cent more in the region.
GM increased its sales 16 per cent in the UAE, compared with the company's estimates of a 9 per cent increase in the overall market.
"We certainly think we are picking up market share with our growth here," said John Stadwick, the managing director in the Middle East for GM.
The company has traditionally had a loyal following in the Middle East for its bigger four-wheel-drive vehicles such as the Cadillac Escalade and the Chevy Tahoe.
But GM is now trying to boost its sales of passenger and cross-over cars, achieving sales growth of more than 75 per cent for both types in the first quarter.
Bill Carter, the valuations manager at Autodata Middle East, an independent vehicle valuation company, said the market for passenger vehicles in the UAE was becoming more fragmented as drivers opted for brands such as GM, Hyundai and Kia over the traditionally dominant Japanese players Nissan and Toyota.
"I'd say growth in the first quarter is around the 5 per cent mark," he said.
"I'd be surprised if it was any higher than that."
He added that manufacturer's sales confirmed his view that the overall market in the UAE had been slow in the first quarter of the year, despite moves by banks and dealers to push cheaper financing options among consumers.
"No one we have spoken to has said they have had a good start to the year in the UAE," said Mr Carter.
In a bid to entice customers to buy, Al-Futtaim Motors was offering initial loans at 1.99 per cent interest for many of its Toyota models in the first quarter, below the past year's average market rate, which analysts say ranged between 3 and 7 per cent.
Arabian Automobiles, the exclusive dealer in Dubai and the Northern Emirates for Nissan, Renault and Infiniti, is offering zero per cent interest on the Nissan Sunny to encourage sales at the budget end of the market.
Mr Stadwick said banks had become more willing to offer financing, which was helping to drive the overall market.
"Banks do have money to lend to the right customer," he said. "The consumer that's getting rejected is because of bad credit history or the debt ratio is unsustainable."