PARIS - The French recovery appears finally to have arrived. First quarter registrations were up 13.2 percent to 460,450, compared with a year earlier.
'The French market continues to grow,' said the trade association CCFA in a statement. 'We hope the results will be consistent with the forecasts made for 1998.'
Most carmakers forecast the 1998 market will reach 1.85 million or 1.90 million units. The market only totalled 1.71 million units in 1997.
PSA/Peugeot-Citroen and Renault are regaining ground previously lost to non-French carmakers. PSA's sales were up by 20.2 percent and Renault's by 14.4 percent. Their combined market share reached 57.6 percent. They had only 55.6 percent of the French market a year ago.
The best-selling model over the quarter was the Renault Megane (42,000 units), but the new Clio supermini was No. 1 in March. Renault's Kangoo minivan heavily outsold PSA's Berlingo/Partner vans by 9,100 units against 2,050.
The Fiat Punto was the top non-French model. Punto sales were up 43 percent to 16,600, compared with a year earlier, overtaking the Volkswagen Polo, Opel Corsa and Ford Fiesta.
Fiat results were boosted by the success of the Alfa Romeo 156, but several manufacturers experienced sales problems. Volkswagen brand was down 9.7 percent because of a shortage of Golfs.
Opel was hit by falling sales of the Corsa, down 11 percent. Rover's sales were down 33.8 percent largely because the group is restructuring its dealer network.