French car market making sluggish recovery from 'rock bottom'

1st October 2014, Comments 0 comments

The French auto sector was buoyed Wednesday by signs of a timid recovery just as Paris gets set to stage its biennial motor show at the weekend.

More than 150,000 new cars were registered last month, the French carmakers association CCFA said, a 6.3-percent rise over a year ago, though the figure drops to 1.5 percent when factoring in an extra working day this September.

Peugeot Citroen PSA was riding especially high with a 17.3 percent jump in sales over September 2013, while Renault's were up 5.3 percent thanks largely to its low-priced Dacia line.

China remains the most promising market with projected 7.5 percent growth in 2014, Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn told French television.

PSA's Carlos Tavares, for his part, said China was the group's "second leg", noting that the group projected sales this year of more than 700,000 units, compared with 550,000 in 2013.

"It has very big growth potential. Don't forget that it's 20 million cars a year in China, and it's by far the biggest market in the world, with an influence on the bordering southeast Asian market," Tavares told French business channel BFM.

PSA has a linkup with Chinese carmaker Dongfeng and is set to build a fourth factory in China, in the southwestern city of Chengdu.

Renault also got a boost from its ally Nissan. The Japanese company saw a jump of nearly 30 percent in September sales to France.

- Market 'climbing back up' -

"There's still some way to go for a full recovery," Ghosn warned however.

"Europe is coming back, it's slow... but it's very good news because this market has done nothing but shrink since 2007."

CCFA spokesman Francois Roudier attributed the success of French automakers to new "crossover" models like the Peugeot 2008 and the Renault Captur.

Late summer rollouts included new city runabouts like the C1-Peugeot and the latest Renault Twingo.

Smaller, cheaper cars represent more than half the sales in France, Roudier said.

"We're happy because we were really at rock bottom and are climbing back up" following the 2008 financial crisis, he said.

Over the first nine months of the year sales were up 2.6 percent, CCFA said, exceeding projections published in July.

But this will still leave annual sales at 1.8 million vehicles, far below the old "normal" of 2 million vehicles, Roudier noted.

French automakers captured 57.14 percent of the market, up about one percentage point since the start of the year.

For the January-September period, all French sales were up, with PSA in the lead at 7.5 percent followed by Renault with 6.9 percent (boosted by a 21.2 percent rise for Dacia).

The top ten cars sold in France in September were all French, with Germany's Volkswagen Golf taking 11th place.

"We have a good match at the moment between the range of French automakers and the tastes of the French consumer," said Jean-Francois Belorgey of the EY consulting firm.

Another encouraging note is that the positive figures are coming out before the motor show opens Saturday.

"French consumers traditionally put off their purchases because they want to compare cars at the show, so it's usually a wait-and-see market in September," said EY's Belorgey. "We're not seeing that now, so that's also good news."

More than a million visitors are expected to flock to the 16-day mecca for car enthusiasts from Saturday at a giant exhibition hall in the French capital where more than 70 auto manufacturers will be showcasing their latest offerings.

Spain also greeted welcome news for its auto sector, with sales up 26.2 percent in September over a year ago, thanks mainly to its "cash-for-clunkers" programme although the country's economy is gradually recovering after six years of crisis.

Meanwhile in Italy, which is expected to see no growth this year, auto sales were up 3.3 percent in September and 3.6 percent for the first nine months of the year.

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© 2014 AFP

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