PARIS - French passenger-car registrations fell 24 percent to 1,248,000 units in the first nine months, compared with the same period in 1996.
As late as the Frankfurt auto show in September, Renault and PSA executives predicted that the year's total would be 1,750,000 units. That may now be too optimistic.
Renault had the two best-selling models. The Megane was No. 1 with 105,600 registrations and 8.5 percent of the total market. The Clio was second. No. 3 was the Peugeot 306.
The best-selling import was the Volkswagen Polo, which sold 43,000 units. It replaced the Opel Corsa.
The combined share of French carmakers fell from 56.3 percent in the first three quarters of 1996 to 55.6 percent this year. PSA's sales fell by 27 percent, Renault's by 22 percent.
The only PSA model that sold more units this year than in 1996 was the Citroen Saxo supermini, which was up 14.5 percent. The Peugeot 106 mini sold 42.6 percent fewer units, while Renault's Twingo and Clio fell 33 and 32 percent, respectively.
The only brands to sell more cars this year were Audi, Jaguar, Saab and Toyota. Sales of prestige brands like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo declined, but not as much as the volume carmakers. Opel fell 32.0 percent, and Fiat 36.5 percent. Ford was down 13 percent.
The combined share of Japanese brands climbed from 3.9 percent last year to 4.5 percent this year, although their sales dropped 11 percent.
The French market fell 15 percent in October after a 40 percent decline in September.