Sales of new cars in France fell by 11.2 percent in April with the ending of a bonus for scrapping cars, the CCFA association of vehicle manufacturers said on Monday.
CCFA spokesman Francois Roudier told AFP: "We know that the market is going to contract sharply" and "return to its level before the bonus for scrapping."
This was a reference to a government scheme introduced in France and some other European countries at the height of the financial crisis to support car makers by offering subsidies to buyers who ordered a new car in return for scrapping an old one.
In France, the last cars to benefit from this scheme were delivered at the end of March. Sales figures for the whole of the first quarter showed an increase of 8.9 percent on a 12-month comparison.
French manufacturers suffered the biggest setback in April, according to the CCFA figures. Sales by PSA Peugeot Citroen fell by 21.1 percent and sales by Renault by 19.1 percent by comparison with sales in April of last year.
Roudier said: "The big beneficiaries of the scrapping scheme, Renault, PSA and Fiat, registered a sharp fall in comparison with the very good figures reported last year."
A total of 169,451 cars were registered in France in April when there was one fewer working day than in April last year.
On a comparable basis, sales fell by 6.8 percent.
"For the whole of 2011, we are still looking at a fall of 8.0 percent," Roudier said.
Roudier said that manufacturers had also suffered from problems with supplies from Japan owing to earthquake damage, and also because of strong demand elsewhere in the world.
Auto Plus magazine reported on Monday that there had been shortages of air conditioning systems, radios, computer chips and colouring agents for metallic paint which are made in Japan.
This meant that a customer for a Renault Clio model would have to wait for six months instead of three, and that there was a delay of nine months for for the Audi A1 or Volkswagen Tiguan models, and six months for a Renault Dacia Duster vehicle. The waiting time for a Peugeot 308 CC or Toyota hybrid Prius was five and a half months.
In April Japanese manufacturers experienced a strong increase in demand for their cars on the French market. Sales by Toyota surged by 27.4 percent and by Nissan by 25.6 percent.
At Automotive experts, analyst Carlos da Silva, said: "The Japanese models which sell in France are made in the United Kingdom and in France." He did not see any significant effect of the damage in Japan on demand for Japanese cars in France.
But sales of industrial vehicles took off in April, rising by 40.6 percent to show an increase of 54.4 percent since the beginning of the year.
"The transportation of freight was hard hit by the crisis. Between 2008 and 2010, we saw falls of 50 percent and even 100 percent," Carlos da Silva said.
Now companies had to renew their fleets because they had been making do with vehicles which had covered hundred of thousands of kilometres, he said.