The new car market in France declined by 1.6% in April, a lower rate of decline than seen in recent months, according to data released by the CCFA.

Car sales in April totalled 166,632 units, 1.6% under last year. However, car sales in the first four months were down 17.5% to 674,462 units. In the early part of 2011, the car market was a little inflated by the ending of a scrappage scheme in December 2010. By April, that market distortion would  have worked through.

The decline to the French car market this year has been bad news for Renault and PSA, though they will at least have welcomed some levelling off in the rate of decline. Some commentators have suggested that relatively strong sales in April may reflect precautionary purchasing ahead of the French presidential elections.

In April, PSA was up 8.9% and Renault was down 10% on year-ago levels.

In the first four months of the year, PSA car sales in France were 207,947 units, some 23% below last year. Renault sales were off 26.2% at 152,540 units.

Renault highlighted an improvement to orders despite poor sales in April, with Dacia off 18.5% on last year.

“Our portfolio of orders has been progressing positively for more than a month and a half for Renault and for nearly two months for Dacia,” said Renault France commercial director, Bernard Cambier.

“We confirm our objective of reaching by the end of the first half, a market share for commercial and light vehicles at the same level as the end of 2011."

For the electric vehicle segment, Renault says Twizy had enjoyed a successful launch with more than 1,400 orders less than three weeks after coming on the market.

Analysts expect the French car market to contract by up to 5% in 2012 under the weight of low economic growth and some uncertainty over the extent of austerity measures following elections.