PARIS (Reuters) -- France's car market ended a negative 2010 on a high note, with drivers flocking to take advantage of scrapping bonuses before they ran out. Meanwhile, car sales in Spain fell for the sixth consecutive month in December, with a 23.9 percent drop.
Spain's industry remains under pressure after the removal of government subsidies in July. Thanks to the incentives, Spain's full-year new-car sales rose 3.1 percent 982,015 units from 952,772 in 2009, carmakers' association ANFAC said on Monday.
Belgian and Italian car sales figures are also due to be published on Monday.
A 0.7 percent slide in French car sales in December brought the year's decline there to 2.2 percent, but the French car market saw 2010 out with a bang in terms of new orders, as the final scrapping bonuses spurred drivers to buy new cars.
Orders placed in the final weeks of 2010 mean the French car market will have a strong start to 2011, although beyond the first quarter, uncertainty reigns.
Q1 looks good, rest of year unclear
"We have good visibility for the first quarter of 2011," said Flavien Neuvy, head of the automobile industry research department at French consumer credit organization Cetelem.
"With the orders from the end of the year we know that the first three months of 2011 overall will be good ... afterwards, there is real uncertainty," said Neuvy said.
He added that the end of 2011 could be difficult, and that there would be a "payback" effect in the second half of the year when the benefits of scrapping ran out once and for all.
In the short term, Neuvy sounded a note of caution about margins, as carmakers offered hefty additional discounts to encourage buyers in the last weeks of France's scrappage scheme.
"Certainly they made a lot of marketing efforts, so we can think that will have an effect on vehicle margins. They have focused on volumes -- in France what is really important for carmakers is defending their market share."
French car sales fell 2.2 percent to 2.25 million units in 2010, carmakers' association CCFA said on Monday.
"December orders were very good," said a CCFA spokesman, "but that is not necessarily reflected in sales."
Car sales or registration figures lag behind orders as customers register their cars when they are delivered a few weeks after the order is placed.
"The first quarter of 2011 should be rather good," the CCFA spokesman added, as orders taken in the final months of 2010 would show up then.
France originally offered a scrapping bonus of 1,000 euros ($1,339), but it was gradually reduced to 500 euros before finally ending on New Year's Eve.
"It was an absolutely phenomenal month: we had a market of orders for 370,000 cars, which allows us to start the year with a very comfortable order book," Renault's commercial director for France, Bernard Cambier, told BFM radio on Monday.
The French car market saw 370,000 orders registered in December, 30 percent more than the same month last year, he said, adding that Renault itself saw orders rise "almost 46 percent" year-on-year in December.
December car sales figures showed a 5.7 percent increase for PSA/Peugeot Citroen SA, while Renault SA's sales fell 4.6 percent last month, CCFA data showed.