PARIS --French new-car sales increased 2.2 percent in March with Volvo, Seat, Kia and Hyundai recording strong gains from SUVs and crossovers.
Registrations rose to 231,110, industry group CCFA reported. There were an identical 22 selling days in March 2018 and 2017.
PSA Group sales jumped 9.2 percent. However, much of that gain was due to the addition of Opel sales after PSA bought the German automaker from General Motors last year.
Peugeot brand sales were up 3.5 percent, Citroen sales were flat, and DS sales rose 15 percent with the introduction of the DS 7 Crossback SUV, the upscale brand’s first all-new model. Opel sold 7,363 vehicles for the month, compared with 8,543 in March 2017 under GM ownership.
Renault Group sales increased 3.9 percent, led by a 14 percent increase at Dacia. Renault brand sales rose 1.2 percent after falling slightly in February.
Seat sales rose by 28 percent as the brand benefited from the introduction of the Arona SUV. Parent Volkswagen Group sales were up 7 percent, with Skoda sales increasing by 16 percent and VW brand's volume rising 13 percent. Audi sales continued to fall, dropping 13 percent in March after losing 8.5 percent in February.
• Download PDF, above right, for March sales by automaker and brand.
Kia sales were up 22 percent and Hyundai's volume increased 17 percent while other Asian automakers saw sharp drops. Nissan sales decreased by 21 percent and Toyota sales fell by 15 percent, following a year of strong increases led by the C-HR crossover.
Fiat Chrysler sales grew faster than the market, up by 11 percent. Jeep brand gained 28 percent, Fiat was up 9.5 percent and Alfa Romeo rose 4.9 percent.
Volvo sales rose 35 percent, as the Swedish company introduced the XC40 compact SUV.
BMW Group sales rose 3 percent, with Mini's 12 percent increase offsetting a 0.9 percent decline at BMW brand. Daimler Group lost 5.3 percent, with Mercedes down 2.7 percent and Smart down 26 percent. Ford sales rose a modest 2.9 percent.
Diesel sales continued to fall sharply, dipping to just 40 percent, and 41 percent for the first three months of 2018. That represents a drop of seven percentage points from the first quarter of 2017. Sales of gasoline and hybrid powertrains filled the gap, although electric vehicle sales dipped slightly.
Light-commercial vehicle sales outpaced the passenger car market, rising 8.2 percent in March and 6.1 percent for the year.
Overall, the French passenger vehicle market is up 2.9 percent for the first quarter to 556,849, in line with analysts’ expectations for the full year.
ISI Evercore said in a note to investors that the French market would play an important role in ensuring a small gain for European sales in 2018.