PARIS - French sales fell to their lowest level since 1993.
'It was a dark year,' said CCFA, France's automakers association.
A decline was expected after the French government ended 30 months of scrapping incentives in October 1996. But the result was worse than most forecasts. Sales crashed 19.7 percent to 1,713,000.
An expected second-half recovery never happened.
French carmakers held on to 56 percent of the market, despite a 21.8 percent drop in sales at PSA. The Peugeot 106 went from No. 3 seller to No. 5.
First-place Renault was down 17.5 percent, but market share recovered from 26.6 percent in 1996 to 27.3 percent.
France's best-selling cars were the Renault Megane and Clio. About half of all Megane sales were Scenic minivan versions.
The best-selling import was the Volkswagen Polo, with 3.4 percent share.
Among importers, Fiat Auto suffered most. Its sales fell 34.1 percent, and market share dropped to 6.7 percent from 8.2 percent in 1996. The end of the juppette incentive hit sales of Fiat's Panda and Cinquecento hard.
Audi sales rose by 4.7 percent, thanks to the success of the A3 and A6. Audi moved ahead of both BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Toyota's sales rose 17 percent, thanks to aggressive price-cutting. Toyota rose above 1 percent of the market for the first time.