Opel Mokka
General Motors' Opel Mokka is the most popular SUV in October, with 2,712 new registrations in Germany. Image source: General Motors.

Europe has long been a pain in the rear for investors in major global automakers. It's frustrating to sell vehicles in the world's third-largest market only to burn through profits in the region. That said, Europe's automotive market has gradually improved since the financial crisis, and if the progress made in 2015 continues throughout next year, automakers such as Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) and General Motors (NYSE: GM) should finally be able to add profits from Europe to their total bottom lines.

Tuesday's release of European vehicle registrations showed another trend higher, albeit at a slower pace; here are the highlights.

By the numbers
Looking specifically at the European Union's passenger car market during October, it marked the 26th consecutive month of growth, with registrations increasing by 2.9%. However, the momentum definitely slowed in all major markets. For context, the 2.9% year-over-year gain was the slowest growth pace since May 2015, which posted a 1.3% gain. Furthermore, October's 2.9% gain was a far cry from June's, July's, August's, and September's sequential gains of 14.6%, 9.5%, 11.2%, and 9.8%, respectively. But hey, a gain is a gain -- investors will take that in Europe, at this point.

Press
Image source: European Automobiles Manufacturers Association.

Automaker highlights and lowlights
Ford's registrations across the entire European Union were up 1.7% in October and 6.5% year to date. The latter figure checks in slightly behind the European Union's 8.2% total increase in passenger car registrations, lowering Ford's market share from 7.5% to 7.3% through the first 10 months of the year.

Narrowing it down to Ford's traditional 20 markets, which it gauges to be a better reflection of the automaker's business focus, the automaker checked in with a total vehicle registration increase of 3% in October and 9% year to date. That left Ford's market share of 7.7% in October flat year over year, and a slight increase to 8.1% year to date for Ford's traditional 20 European markets.

There were a couple of other interesting developments for Ford in Europe recently. The Mustang, which is selling for the first time overseas this year, has sold more than 10,000 units since the books opened in January. Another sports car, Ford's Focus ST, recorded sales doubling since the expanded petrol and diesel engine lineup hit the roads this year -- also topping 10,000 through the first 10 months of the year.

One of the larger surprises was Volkswagen Group (NASDAQOTH:VLKAY), which continues to deal with the fallout from its diesel emissions scandal. While Volkswagen Group's total registrations are 6.4% higher year to date, compared to last year, its market share through the first 10 months dropped from 25.3% to 24.9%. Looking only at October figures, Volkswagen Group's market share dropped from 25.9% last year to 25.1%. The scandal is certainly having a negative impact on Volkswagen Group's market share, and the worst may be yet to come.

General Motors' Opel Group posted a 2.7% decline in October registrations in the European Union, which lowered its market share from 6.5% a year ago to 6.1%. Opel's year-to-date sales have only increased 0.9% through the first 10 months of 2015. However, both statistics appear worse than they will be going forward because GM decided to pull its Chevrolet operations out of Europe, but those registrations are still in last year's figures, which make year-over-year comparisons more difficult.

A bright spot for General Motors investors is that Opel had a strong October performance in Germany, the European Union's largest country by registration totals. Opel posted its best October market share since 2011 at 7% and recorded more than 19,600 new passenger car registrations, which was a 6.3% gain compared to last year's October.

Slowly but surely, automakers, and Europe's automotive market, are making progress. It's been a long road for investors, who had hoped to see a faster recovery in Europe, which would have added profits to automakers' bottom lines as soon as this year. However, if this momentum continues into 2016, expect next year to be the final breakthrough for profitability. 

Daniel Miller owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and General Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.