French new car sales rose 5.7% in March, their first monthly increase this year, according to the country's car industry body CCFA.

A Reuters report said that, in the first quarter of 2004, sales were down 2.8% reflecting weak consumer confidence in Europe's worst-hit car market.

For the month of March sales rose to 197,838 units from 187,159 units a year earlier, the CCFA reportedly said. In January and February, sales declined by 11.9% and 2.7%, respectively, Reuters added.

Renault sales rose 3.5% during the month, while PSA Peugeot-Citroen saw its sales dip 1.9%, the report said.

According to Reuters, foreign carmakers continued to make inroads in France, with their sales rising 14.6%, fuelled by strong performances at Hyundai, Toyota and BMW.

The report noted that car sales in the euro zone's second largest economy fell 6.3% last year as worries over France's high jobless rate capped spending on big ticket items.