PARIS/MADRID (Reuters) -- France's floundering economy pushed car sales 7 percent lower year-on-year in December, while Spanish sales jumped by 21 percent, helped by a subsidy scheme, and sales also rose in Italy, according to auto industry associations.
The contrasting year-end performance highlights how France has been left out of a fragile recovery in Europe's car sector.
The French market posted annual growth in 2014 for the first time since 2009. Registrations for the year rose 0.3 percent to 1.8 million cars, the CCFA auto industry association said.
Car registrations in France declined to 163,382 vehicles last month, with those of PSA/Peugeot-Citroen tumbling 10 percent. Renault fared better as group domestic registrations slipped 0.8 percent, CCFA said in a statement.
Francois Roudier, a CCFA spokesman, said car sales in France were expected to be largely stagnant this year.
In Spain, 73,440 cars were sold in December and 855,308 in 2014, up 18 percent from 2013 and the best annual performance since 2010, carmakers association Anfac said.
The government announced it was extending the Plan PIVE scheme that offers price cuts on new low-emission vehicles for the seventh time at the beginning of November.
"The car market ends the year with its strongest annual growth in 15 years, with the Plan PIVE allowing 16 straight months expansion," David Barrientos, head of communications at Anfac, said. "If the Plan PIVE continues throughout the year, car registrations could come close to a million."
In Italy, Europe's fourth-largest car market, new car sales rose 2 percent in December to 91,518 vehicles, the transport ministry said. In all of 2014, Italian car sales were up 4 percent to 1.36 million vehicles.
But while industry groups welcomed the first rise in annual sales after a six-year slump, they urged caution.
"A lot of ground still needs to be recovered to return to normal market levels," automotive research group Centro Studi Promotor said in a note.
Promotor expects Italian car sales to rise 5 percent this year, boosted by a car replacement cycle. The number could easily be surpassed if the government introduced measures to spur demand, it added.
Foreign carmakers' association UNRAE sees Italian car sales increasing around 3 percent in 2015.