UPDATE 2-French car sales decline slowed in April

Thu May 2, 2013 12:54pm EDT

PARIS May 2 (Reuters) - France's car sales decline slowed down in April to a 5.2 percent drop, data published on Thursday showed, raising hopes that demand may be about to stabilise.

April registrations fell to 157,859 cars last month, the Paris-based CCFA industry association said, with sales for the first four months down 12.3 percent.

The slump in demand slowed from a 16.4 percent drop in March.

"The plunge seems to be halting after the double-digit declines of previous months," CCFA spokesman Francois Roudier said.

In Italy, the outlook worsened. Italian car sales fell 10.8 percent in April, figures released on Thursday showed, confirming the gloomy outlook for Europe's fourth-largest car market.

"If this trend continues, we could end the year at 1.1 million units, which would mean a decline in revenue for the sector of 15.9 billion euros," Italian car dealers' association Federauto said in a statement.

Italian car sales are currently seen at about 1.3 million in 2013.

After five years of European market contraction, carmakers are watching for signs of a pickup they expect later in 2013.

Many have based recovery strategies on a market decline no bigger than 5 percent for the full year, helped by easier comparisons with a weak second half of 2012.

"When do we bottom? Not this month," Credit Suisse analyst David Arnold said in a note to investors.

An additional day of French sales in April masked a bigger underlying slump, he said. "Adjusting for selling days, the decline is more severe."

French car sales fell 9.7 percent when corrected for such calendar effects, the CCFA said. Nonetheless, the numbers mark the first decline of less than 10 percent for six months.

PSA Peugeot Citroen lost further domestic market share in April as the struggling carmaker's sales dropped 12.1 percent.

French peer Renault outperformed rivals with a more modest drop of 2.8 percent. A surge in sales of its low-cost Dacia models took the sting out of a 7.5 percent drop for the core Renault brand.

Fiat recorded a 4.6 percent rise in registrations, led by a 15.5 percent rebound in sales by the namesake brand spurred by new versions of its 500 small car.

Volkswagen also defied the slump with a 4.4 percent advance helped by its updated Golf compact.

South Korea's Hyundai and affiliate Kia posted a combined 17.3 percent gain.

General Motors sales fell 18.8 percent and Ford tumbled 16.8 percent.

French delivery van sales fell 4.1 percent in April, the CCFA said, limiting the overall light vehicle registrations decline to 5 percent.

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