The brighter outlook came after figures showed that 10,349 new cars were sold last month, a rise of almost 7 per cent on a year earlier. It compares with virtually no growth in the UK-wide January total.
Industry bosses north of the Border said they were “very pleased” with the early lift to registrations in 2012.
Douglas Robertson, chief executive of the Scottish Motor Trade Association, said: “We have said for several months that 2012 is going to be another difficult year for the retail motor industry.
“However, these figures coming so soon after the UK government’s announcement that the current frequency of MOTs is to be maintained, bodes well for the industry in 2012 and perhaps we can look forward to a stronger year in 2012 than we had previously anticipated.”
The best selling vehicle last month, both in Scotland and across the UK, was the Ford Fiesta.
Kia’s Cee’d – the “reasonably priced car” driven by guests on BBC’s Top Gear programme – made it into the Scottish top ten, while a breakdown of the sales total by brand revealed that seven Bentleys were purchased in Scotland last month, despite a sticker price starting at just over £130,000.
UK-wide, there were 128,853 registrations in January – a rise of just 0.03 per cent on the January 2010 total, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
The new car market is expected to remain stable this year, dipping just 1 per cent to 1.92 million, before recovering in 2013, the SMMT added.
Paul Everitt, chief executive of the trade body, said: “The January new car market held firm – a welcome sign of stability in uncertain economic times.
“2012 is set to be an exciting year, with record numbers of models coming to the market filled with innovative technology that will save the motorist fuel, enhance comfort and further increase levels of safety and security.”
Last month’s figures were boosted by private sales which were up 2.7 per cent, while there was also growth in the fleet sector.
Demand for diesel cars continued to increase, with diesel’s share of the market rising from 50.5 per cent a year ago to 53.7 per cent. Registrations of alternatively fuelled vehicles rose by 17.7 per cent in the month, but accounted for only 1.6 per cent of the overall market.
Howard Archer, chief UK economist at IHS Global Insight, the forecasting group, said: “Despite January’s modest gain, it still looks more likely than not that car manufacturers will find life difficult in 2012, with the outlook for private car sales particularly problematic.
“It seems inevitable that many consumers will be unwilling or unable to spend on big-ticket items like a car.”
Sue Robinson, director of the RMI National Franchised Dealers Association, added: “The growth in sales last month shows some sign that the market is finally beginning to recover.”