Demand for new cars grew by 11.5 per cent last month compared with March 2020, new figures show.
Some 283,964 new cars were registered in the UK last month despite showrooms remaining shut due to coronavirus restrictions, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said.
The year-on-year increase was still 36.9 per cent down on the average March total between 2010 and 2019.
Land Rover saw a 21.8 per cent rise in new car sales to 15,086, but Jaguar declined 19 per cent to 3,880.
MG, which has its head office at Longbridge with cars made in China and other countries, grew 44.5 per cent to 3,956.
Volkswagen was the top selling brand, up 3.2 per cent to 23,698, followed by Ford, up 17 per cent to 22,237 and Mercedes-Bnz rising 25.5 per cent to 21,313.
Industry turnover between January and March was down £1.8 billion compared with the same period in 2020.
March is traditionally a strong month for car sales as new number plates are released.
The SMMT said 8,300 registrations a day are needed for the industry to return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year.
The organisation's chief executive, Mike Hawes, said: "The past year has been the toughest in modern history and the automotive sector has, like many others, been hit hard.
"However, with showrooms opening in less than a week, there is optimism that consumer confidence - and hence the market - will return.
"We know we will see record-breaking growth next month given April 2020 was a washout, but a strong and sustainable market is possible if customers are attracted to the choice and competitive offer the industry is able to provide within the safest of showroom environments.
"New plug-in models are already helping drive a recovery but to convince more retail consumers to make the switch they must be assured these new technologies will be convenient for their driving needs, and that means, above all, that the charging infrastructure is there where they need it, and when they need it."
James Fairclough, chief executive of AA Cars, said: “Whether it was the light at the end of the lockdown tunnel or the arrival of the new licence plates, March’s uptick in sales provided a much-needed boost to dealers. There's now a renewed sense of optimism in the industry as forecourts begin to open in Scotland, and dealerships in England prepare to follow suit next week.
“These figures are a sign that there is plenty of pent-up demand for new cars, and dealers are understandably hoping for a strong recovery in the coming months."
Alex Buttle, director of used car marketplace Motorway.co.uk, said: “Although positive March figures will be a welcome relief after some disappointing numbers in January and February, enthusiasm needs to be tempered a little.
"March 2020 saw the UK plunged into lockdown for the first time when car showrooms were forced to shut their doors and sales fell accordingly. Many dealers adjusted to the new normal by offering a fully online experience from then onwards.
“The real game changer for new car sales should come from April 12, when car showrooms can open their doors to the public again. Showrooms opening can’t happen soon enough for the new car industry to take off, especially with EV purchases showing real traction for growth in 2021.
John Wilmot, CEO of the UK's largest car leasing comparision website LeaseLoco, added: "Once again, the monthly growth in electric vehicle sales stands out, showing that the public does have the appetite to buy EVs."