By Laurence Frost and Gilles Guillaume
PARIS Feb 1 French car sales fell 15 percent to
their lowest January level in 16 years, as Volkswagen
and U.S. carmakers led declines, leaving no end in
sight to Europe's autos slump.
Registrations in France fell to 124,952 cars last month from
147,046 a year earlier, Paris-based auto industry association
CCFA said on Friday.
That was the lowest January total since the 122,320 recorded
at the beginning of 1997, as austerity-squeezed household
budgets mean consumers are holding back on big purchases.
The data "confirmed rumours that the French passenger car
market started 2013 on as weak a note as it exited 2012,"
London-based Credit Suisse analyst David Arnold said.
Ongoing declines across Europe suggest carmakers will have
to cut output by a further 7 percent this year, Arnold said in a
note - adding to the excess production capacity that is already
racking up deep losses for most volume brands.
Dented by the region's debt crisis, austerity and rising
unemployment, European auto sales are at a 17-year low and still
Renault and Japanese affiliate Nissan are
not counting on any European recovery within the next three to
four years, Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of both, said this
Renault's French car sales fell 7.4 percent in January,
holding up better than the market thanks to a 9.9 percent gain
for its low-cost Dacia brand, as consumers opted for "crisis
cars" such as the no-frills Sandero compact and the Duster
sports utility vehicle (SUV).
Struggling domestic rival PSA Peugeot Citroen,
which is cutting 8,000 French jobs in a bid to restore
profitability in 2015, saw sales plunge a further 16.7 percent
at home last month.
Without the benefit of the recently released Renault Clio
and Peugeot 208 small car - Europe's December bestseller in its
category - the numbers would have been worse for the French.
January's decline was compounded by destocking in December,
when automakers used heavy discounts to clear inventory of
unsold cars by the end of the year, CCFA spokesman Francois
"But demand is still very weak for small and medium-sized
cars and minivans," Roudier said.
French sales by the Volkswagen group, Europe's biggest
carmaker, plunged 23.9 percent to 16,846 cars - with the decline
accentuated by the comparison with January 2012, an
exceptionally strong month for the German giant.
Combined French registrations by General Motors'
Chevrolet and Opel/Vauxhall brands dropped 21.2 percent, and
Ford sales fell 35.3 percent.
French delivery van sales also fell 13.9 percent in January,
the CCFA said, leading to a 9.1 percent drop for light vehicle