PARIS, March 14 (Reuters) - The number of new cars ordered by customers in France declined by 7 percent year-on-year in February, according to a survey by specialist publication La lettre VN Auto K7, indicating a negative trend in new registrations this month.
The drop was greater than the 1 percent decline in January, but was far less than the 57 percent plunge in orders in December, which preceded a 20 percent fall in new car registrations in the first two months of this year.
“Retailers had begun January with order books close to absolute zero. So the partial rebuilding of the portfolios remains the good news for the month: despite the winter holidays and bad weather, clients have tended to visit the showrooms,” La Lettre VN wrote.
Orders fell 18 percent last month for Renault, 8 percent for Peugeot and 7 percent for Citroen, acording to La Lettre VN.
Italy’s Fiat suffered the most last month, with orders down 25 percent, whilst Germany’s Volkswagen continued to buck the trend with an 8 percent rise in February, according to the publication.
Overall, year-on-year comparisons for automakers are made tougher as the start of last year benefited from the tail end of a car scrappage scheme.
Renault sales director Jerome Stoll said at the Geneva Auto Show last week that the year had started worse than expected in Europe.
March, which is important for the sector as the weather improves, will be key for first-quarter sales and orders, but Stoll already estimated that orders for all brands could be down 20 percent in the period through March 31.
La Letter VN said a key indicator was corporate fleet sales.
“While registrations are still holding up well at this point, all the dealers are seeing strong caution, delayed purchasing decisions and the extension of many leasing contracts,” the publication said.
The trend worsened in the second half of February, it added. Light commercial vehicle orders also fell last month in France, down 8 percent.
France’s CCFA automobile association expects the French market to drop by 10 percent this year, compared with a 2.1 percent decline in 2011. (Editing by James Regan)