French car sales rose for the first time this year in a sign government incentives toward auto purchases are helping the sector claw back from a deep slump triggered by the coronavirus.
Passenger car registrations increased by 1.2% to 233,818 in June compared with the same month last year, according to figures published Wednesday by industry group CCFA. It was the first gain since December, before the outbreak forced shutdowns of factories and dealerships across Europe.
“It’s encouraging, even if we have to remain cautious” about what will come next, Luc Chatel, head of French auto lobby La Plateforme Automobile, said on BFM radio. Sales are down 38.6% for the first six months of the year.
Renault SA struck a more optimistic tone after group volumes increased 6.5% in June, with a gain in market share during the first half. Rival PSA Group, including the Peugeot and Citroen brands, recorded a 9.1% fall.
“We are seeing a good rebound of the market, strongly stimulated by the government measures,” Renault head of French sales Ivan Segal said on a call. “This should continue in the third quarter.”
The carmaker expects the overall French market to shrink by about a fifth this year, he said, warning of the possibility of a fourth-quarter setback.
The European car industry was decimated by the coronavirus pandemic after governments ordered showrooms shut for about two months and consumers remained under lockdown. Sales across Europe are forecast to drop by a record 25% this year – the steepest percentage drop on record – to the lowest total since 2013.
On a monthly basis, though, the worst is likely over. Europe’s auto registrations fell 57% in May, an improvement from April’s 78% plunge.
While the French data adds to sentiment of a turnaround, Spanish car sales also published Wednesday showed a 36.7% drop in June.
Carmakers are preparing to announce results this month for what is likely to be a devastating second quarter. France, Germany and Spain have unveiled aid packages for the industry, while Britain’s main automotive trade group has called for government support, saying one in six jobs are at risk.