Auto recovery takes firmer hold in France

Renault's domestic sales rose 18 percent last month, lifted by demand for Dacia models including the Duster, shown.
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PARIS (Reuters) -- Renault led a 6 percent gain in French new-car sales in April as the European auto market recovery took a firmer hold in the region's third-biggest market.

Total registrations advanced to 166,968 cars last month from 157,749 in April 2013, the CCFA industry association said today. In the first four months, sales rose 4 percent to 613,577.

"It was mainly corporate buyers who carried the month, while consumer sales are down a little," CCFA spokesman Francois Roudier said. Consumer spending is still "marked by great caution," he added.

The registrations uptick was achieved despite April's Easter holiday, which had fallen in March last year, Citi analyst Philip Watkins said. Renault had "significantly outperformed" the market, he said.

The French market has shown signs of a stop-start recovery. Sales rose 9 percent in December then stagnated in the first two months of the year with a 1 percent drop in February ending almost five months of straight sales gains. In March, sales rose again by 9 percent.

Renault’s group sales rose 18 percent last month, led by a 46 percent surge for its no-frills Dacia brand. Domestic rival PSA/Peugeot-Citroen posted a 5 percent gain, while Volkswagen Group registrations advanced a more modest 1 percent.

The broader European auto market is recovering slowly from a six-year slump that has been particularly severe in France, Spain and Italy. Most industry analysts and executives are cautiously predicting a return to growth this year at a low single-digit rate.

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