PARIS -- French new car sales tumbled in January as jitters over potential war in Iraq made consumers think twice about splashing out on pricey items, the industry body said on Monday.
French carmaking association CCFA said sales of new cars fell to 175,175 units in January from 192,089 in the same 2002 period, when French motorists bought more cars than in any other month for 10 years.
The drop comes after sales in December dipped 0.5 percent, or 5.9 percent on a comparable business days basis, bringing the fall for 2002 to 4.9 percent, in line with industry forecasts.
"This fall in the French market... comes in a wait-and-see environment linked to current uncertainties over the risks and consequences of the international situation," CCFA said in a statement.
Domestic carmaking duo Renault and PSA Peugeot Citroen saw combined sales fall 11.2 percent as foreign manufacturers continued to gain market share.
Renault had swerved ahead of its rival in December, with the arrival of its much-heralded Megane II boosting sales by over 12 percent, helping it grab a larger slice of the market and paving the way for stronger growth in 2003.
But sales of Renault cars fell 14.9 percent in January, with its market share slipping as the hype that followed the launch of the Megane appeared to fizzle.
PSA, which bucked a flagging western European market to boost global car sales in 2002, saw sales in France fall 8.4 percent in January though its market share nudged up.
Beleaguered Italian car maker Fiat saw sales of its Fiat brand in France slump by 29 percent, while total sales by foreign automakers dipped only 5.1 percent as they boosted their market share to more than 40 percent.
Analysts and manufacturers reckon sales of new cars in the eurozone's second largest economy will fall further this year as consumers remain frugal and economies are weak. Western European new car registrations fell 2.9 percent in 2002.
But PSA pledged last month it would continue to boost sales despite a dearth of high-selling new models and a flagging home market, while Renault is counting on Megane and its six spin-offs to help boost market share and profits.
CCFA said separately on Monday French carmakers produced 5.64 million vehicles in 2002 -- an increase of 1.4 percent compared with 2001. Car production edged 2.9 percent higher, while the number for light utility vehicles fell 8.5 percent.
The group said 0.6 percent of cars made by French carmakers were produced in France.