PARIS - France posted the strongest growth of all western European countries in the first half of 2000 - with the exception of the small market of Ireland.
Sales of new passenger cars rose 17.4 percent in January-June to 1.1 million. May and June were particularly strong, with increases of 32 percent and 75 percent respectively over the same months in 1999.
But the large rise in June to 183,700 mainly resulted from the cancellation of the so-called millesime plate-change system. That meant July 1 was no longer the introduction date for new models in France, and the traditional June sales drop - caused by buyers waiting for the newest models to arrive - did not happen this year.
Thanks to the successful first half, the French market may reach record levels this year. According to French trade association CCFA, the market could climb to 2.3 million, after 2.15 million in 1999.
French carmakers are taking full advantage of the market. Their market share has grown from 57.3 percent in first-half 1999 to 59.4 percent in the same period this year, with unit sales growing by 21.6 percent.
With a 30.5 percent market share, PSA/Peugeot-Citroen was the No. 1 group, benefiting from models such as the Peugeot 206 (No. 3 best seller) and the Citroen Xsara (No. 4 thanks to the launch of the Picasso compact minivan).
PSA is also taking advantage of the rising demand for diesel engines. Diesel models now account for 47 percent of the total French market, against 41.4 percent last year.
Renault is the top brand in France, with a share of 28.8 percent. It dominates the list of the top 10 best sellers, with the Megane at No. 1 and the Clio at No. 2.