PARIS -- The number of new cars ordered by customers in France declined by 7 percent year-on-year in February, according to a survey by specialist publication La lettre VN Auto K7.
The drop added to fears that 2012 will be a tough year for the French car market.
Fiat suffered the most last month, with orders down 25 percent, while Volkswagen continued to buck the trend with an 8 percent rise in February, according to the publication.
Orders fell 18 percent last month for Renault, 8 percent for Peugeot and 7 percent for Citroen, according to La Lettre VN.
Overall, year-on-year comparisons for automakers are made tougher as the start of last year benefited from the tail end of a car scrappage scheme.
Renault sales director Jerome Stoll said at the Geneva auto show last week that the year had started worse than expected in Europe.
March, which is important for the sector as the weather improves, will be key for first-quarter sales and orders, but Stoll already estimated that orders for all brands could be down 20 percent in the period through March 31.
France's CCFA automobile association expects the French market to drop by 10 percent this year, compared with a 2.1 percent decline in 2011.
La Letter VN said a key indicator was corporate fleet sales.
"While registrations are still holding up well at this point, all the dealers are seeing strong caution, delayed purchasing decisions and the extension of many leasing contracts," the publication said.
The trend worsened in the second half of February, it added. Light commercial vehicle orders also fell last month in France, down 8 percent.