PARIS – After a decade of steady growth, SUV sales in France have stabilized, falling slightly behind last year’s market share of 5.5%.

However, competitors believe that when Renault SA and PSA Peugeot Citroen introduce their first SUVs next year, the sector will grow again – and all entrants will benefit.

“Today, a sport/utility is something different,” says Guillaume Langle, director-marketing for Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. in France. “When the French companies offer them in their range, people will see them as something normal, and that will help the whole segment grow.”

Nissan’s Pathfinder, produced in Barcelona with a suspension and body made more robust to satisfy the European customer’s desire for a sportier ride, took over the sales lead from the Toyota Land Cruiser last year in France, Germany and Spain, with a combined 12% share of fullsize SUV sales, according to Nissan data.

In France, Langle says, the Pathfinder controlled 31% of the fullsize SUV market through April with 1,490 registrations, followed by the Land Cruiser and, surprisingly, the Ssangyong Rexton, which sold almost 900 units in the first four months.

Percent Changing Body Styles in France
1990 1995 2000 2002 2003 2004 2005
Sedan and hatchback 93.4 89.7 71.6 69.2 64.7 59.7 58.5
Station wagon 2.7 4.1 5.6 6.9 7.3 6.8 7.0
Coupe and convertible 1.6 1.6 2.4 2.7 2.7 3.4 2.9
Minivans 1.2 3.0 17.3 17.2 20.4 24.6 25.4
Sport Utilities 0.7 1.3 2.7 3.5 4.4 4.9 5.5
Others 0.4 0.4 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.7
Source: CCFA

Ssangyong, a Korean marque owned by China’s Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., was a bit player in France until September 2004, when Frey Groupe took over distribution and added the brand at its 100 French dealers that also handle Subaru, Hyundai and Daihatsu models.

% Market Share of Fullsize, Non-Luxury SUVs in France
Four Months 2006
Nissan Pathfinder 31
Toyota Land Cruiser 28
Ssangyong Rexton 18
Land Rover Discovery 7
Mitsubishi Pajero 5
Hyundai Terracan 4
Land Rover Defender 4
Nissan Patrol 2
Nissan Terrano 1
Source: Nissan France

Frey also has the Ssangyong distribution franchise for Italy, Germany and Spain.

“The market has stabilized, but it will explode again next year when Renault and PSA enter,” says Guy Forey, sales director for Ssangyong Motor Co. Ltd. in France.

SUV sales in the first four months totaled 36,192, or 5.1% of the market, according to the CCFA, the French manufacturers’ association. Nissan’s Langle blames the slowdown this year on a new tax structure for business fleets based on fuel consumption.

The smaller Toyota RAV4 is the best-selling SUV in France, and the models coming next year from Renault and PSA will compete in that size bracket.

The Peugeot and Citroen SUVs essentially will be rebadged Mitsubishi Outlanders, built by Mitsubishi Motors Corp. The Renault model will use the Nissan X-Trail platform and be built by its Korean subsidiary, Renault Samsung Motors Inc.

Nameplates have not been announced, but Renault may use Koleos, the name of a concept SUV it unveiled at the Geneva auto show in 2000. Peugeot will use a 00 number, such as 4007. Citroen has an open slot in its number-name system, C7, but it also has the Xsara Picasso in its lineup, so it could chose a non-alphanumeric name.

PSA and Renault plan on selling at least 30,000 units in France between them. SUV sales last year totaled 113,406 units in France.

Renault, especially, seems bent on adding a 4x4 reputation to its brand. The marque once again will have a 4-wheel-drive version of its Megane Scenic in two years, reversing a decision made several years ago, according to a supplier source with a contract to make unique components for the vehicle. The 4WD Megane Scenic RX4 was halted in 2003 after three years, and when the new Megane and Scenic were launched, Renault said the RX4 would not be revived.

In addition, according to reports in the French automotive press, Renault will have a fullsize SUV or 4WD cross/utility in 2009.