The cockpit of the first ZOE electric car made by French carmaker Renault during its official presentation in Paris
Paris - AFP
The French car market, struggling to recover from a steep downturn last year, faltered badly in May when sales rose by just 0.1 percent although French automakers including hard-hit Peugeot did well, trade data showed on Monday.
Car sales are an important indicator of business and household confidence which in France is overhung by low growth, tax rises to correct the national budget, and record unemployment.
The latest car data fits an overall picture of unsteady confidence in the French manufacturing sector, a picture confirmed by new overall data for the sector on Monday.
Meanwhile in austerity-hit Spain, trade figures showed that car sales jumped by 16.9 percent in May to 82,480, boosted by a programme of government subsidies for cars bought to replace old vehicles.
In France, for the whole of this year, the CCFA expects the number of new car sales to rally by 1.0 percent, but its spokesman said that this could be revised upwards next month.
The PSA Peugeot Citroen group, which has just opened up to Chinese group Dongfeng and the French state as shareholders in an effort to pull away from crisis, together with the Renault group, performed strongly in May when French sales overall were undermined a series of holiday weekends.
But foreign brands suffered, falling 6.2 percent as a whole.
The French CCFA trade body of French carmakers, which publishes the monthly data, said that sales by showrooms were weak overall because many people had gone away for long weekends.
In the month, 148,573 new cars were registered, marking a rise of 0.1 percent from the level a year ago, allowing for calendar differences in the number of working days.
This was sharply down from growth of 8.9 percent in March and 5.8 percent in April.
Sales by Peugeot Citroen rose by 3.9 percent in May and sales by Renault, which controls Japanese Nissan and owns the Romanian low-cost brand Dacia, rose by 9.0 percent.
However, production by these two groups in their factories in France jumped by 18.2 percent in the first quarter of the year, including a 21.3 percent surge for Peugeot Citroen as it fights to overcome its financial crisis.
The manufacturers which did best were those offering small sports utility vehicles (SUVs), the CCFA said.
Meanwhile, a closely watched indicator of how the economy is likely to perform, the PMI purchasing managers' index for overall manufacturing in France, was sluggish in May.
The index, published by the Markit private company, gave a reading of 49.6, slightly better than 49.3 in a first estimate but down from 51.2 in April.
This was the first fall for three months and went below the 50-point level which marks growth or contraction.
Markit economist Jack Kennedy said that the disappointing May figure was evidence that the economy lacked the drive needed for real recovery.
On May 22, the French official statistics office INSEE published data showing a worsening of sentiment among French industrialists.