PARIS French car sales rose 0.9 percent in July, the country's CCFA industry association said on Thursday, in a sign that auto demand may finally be stabilizing in one of the markets worst hit by Europe's sustained slump.
Registrations rose to 150,248 cars last month, the association said in a statement, with PSA Peugeot Citroen (PEUP.PA) and Renault (RENA.PA) both in positive territory and Toyota (7203.T) surging 24 percent.
"We clearly sense that the sales plunge is reaching an end," CCFA spokesman François Roudier said. "A series of recent model launches has helped a lot."
The upturn, helped by an additional sales day compared with July 2012, contrasts with the 9.7 percent drop in French car sales so far this year.
The CCFA maintained its forecast for an 8 percent full-year decline.
Peugeot saw its domestic sales edge 0.9 percent higher last month, thanks in large part to better-than-expected sales of its new 2008 compact SUV - one of the few categories of vehicle showing consistent European growth.
Renault's competing Captur helped the carmaker deliver a 4.7 percent increase in registrations, also bolstered by a 6.1 percent gain for the group's no-frills Dacia brand.
Mercedes-Benz registrations meanwhile dropped 6.8 percent as France continued to block sales of several models including the A- and B-Class in a dispute over parent Daimler's (DAIGn.DE) refusal to stop using a banned air-conditioning refrigerant in recent models.
By contrast, Mercedes rival BMW (BMWG.DE) recorded an 8.8 percent French sales increase for its namesake brand, while sales at VW's (VOWG_p.DE) Audi division were little changed. That eroded Mercedes' market share to 1.89 percent from 2.05 percent.
Including French delivery van sales, which rose 2.7 percent in July, overall registrations posted a 1.2 percent gain for the month and a 9.4 percent decline for the year so far. (Reporting by Laurence Frost and Gilles Guillaume; Editing by James Regan)