The year of 2012 is off to a poor start in terms of European car sales if the January results from France and Italy are anything to go by.

Data released by the CCFA in Paris shows that new car registrations in January plummeted by 20.7% year-on-year to 147,143 units. However, the comparison on last year is a little distorted by the fact that January 2011 was a particularly strong month in France, as sales were being boosted by the spillover from the ending of a scrappage incentive scheme.

The French carmakers fared particularly badly. Car sales for Renault Group at 32,887 units were 32.7% down on last year. PSA sales of 45,554 units were 27.4% off last year's pace. However, VW Group was up 18.2% with sales of 22,145 units and BMW Group managed a gain of 16% to 4,829 units.

Data released by ANFIA shows that car sales in Italy fell 16.9% last month to 137,119 units. Fiat Group was down 17% on last year with car sales of 40,400 units. The importers generally fared poorly though there were notable gains for Hyundai (+19%; 4,000 units), Kia (+43%; 2,364 units) and Chevrolet (+23%; 2,947 units).

Italy's economy is facing a renewed austerity programme under its new president and that will impact car purchases this year. The selling rate for the final quarter of 2011 stood at just 1.7m units a year (2011 car market was 1.8m units) and with the economy continuing to struggle, the market could slip further in 2012.

See also: January 2012 management briefing: world markets – Europe