PARIS (Reuters) - French car sales jumped 9.4 percent in December, according to industry data published on Thursday, boosting hopes for a return to growth in 2014 after four straight annual declines.
Last month's gain to 175,336 car registrations, from 160,314 a year earlier, pared the full-year contraction for 2013 to 5.7 percent, the CCFA industry association said.
Renault <RENA. PA> expects a "stable market" in 2014, the carmaker's French sales chief Bernard Cambier told BFM Business TV.
The country's second-biggest carmaker led the monthly gains with a 37.9 percent surge - partly reflecting particularly weak sales the previous December - while larger domestic rival PSA Peugeot Citroen <PEUP. PA> posted a 10.6 percent increase.
European market leader Volkswagen <VOWG_p. DE> saw its French deliveries climb 9.9 percent.
Hit by the financial crisis and resulting economic slump, the European auto market has been in decline for six straight years and French demand has fallen for the last four of those.
France has "ended 2013 on a better note with car sales stabilizing over the past few months", London-based Citi analyst Philip Watkins said in a note to clients.
But even a return to sluggish growth will do little to alleviate chronic excess capacity that has built up along with regional losses, industry officials warn.
"We're still in a very weak market," said CCFA spokesman Francois Roudier. The coming year should bring "stability at a very low level", he said.
French delivery van registrations also jumped 11.7 percent last month and declined 4.4 percent in 2013. That took total light vehicle sales to a 9.7 percent gain for the month and a 5.5 percent drop for the year.
(Reporting by Laurence Frost and Noelle Mennella; Editing by James Regan and Erica Billingham)