PARIS -- French new car sales rose 3.9 percent in the first quarter of 2005, helped by a 2.5 percent rise in March, in an encouraging start to the year after a difficult 2004.
New car registrations totaled 202,692 in March, up from 197,691 in March 2003, France's car makers' association CCFA said on Friday.
This represented a 7.2 percent rise based on the same number of business days.
March's rise followed an increase of 6.5 percent in January, accentuated by a favorable year-on-year comparison, and a 3.1 percent rise in February, resulting in first-quarter sales of 526,450, up from 506,884 in the first quarter of 2004.
"Despite a quite morose context and consumption that is not very dynamic, the French market for new cars remains respectable and, alongside Spain, is performing better than other large European countries," the CCFA said in a statement.
In 2004, new car registrations in France rose just 0.2 percent, after stronger demand in November and December pulled the year out of negative territory.
March sales at France's number one manufacturer, PSA Peugeot-Citroen, were down 2.7 percent in March versus 2004, with a 7.2 percent drop at its Peugeot brand and a 4 percent rise at its Citroen brand.
Rival Renault saw a 2 percent rise in registrations in March versus the previous year.
Meanwhile foreign manufacturers strengthened their place in the French market, with sales up 7.2 percent in March and 8 percent over the first quarter, taking their market share to 41.4 percent.
Both PSA and Renault warned earlier this year that margins are likely to come under pressure in 2005 as they weather the effects of sustained high raw material costs and strong price competition from overseas manufacturers.