PARIS – New-car registrations in France rose 13% in January, as cars ordered last year when government bonuses were at their highest now are being delivered.

French auto makers led the growth, with PSA Peugeot Citroen sales climbing 14.3% and the combined Renault-Dacia brands jumped 55.8%.

January generally is poor month for sales, so an increase in light-utility vehicle deliveries for the second straight month particularly is good news.

Light utilities did not benefit from last year’s government scrappage incentives. The fact sales rose 7.7% last month indicates the country’s underlying economy is recovering.

Light utilities, such as the Citroen Berlingo and Renault Kangoo, “are purchased only by businesses,” says Jean-Michel Prillieux, an analyst with Mavel SA in Paris. “Credit is available now.”

Sales of light utilities plummeted 40.2% last year across Western Europe, while passenger cars deliveries inched up a mere 0.5%. In France, utility vehicle sales fell 37.5% in full 2009.

Renault led the sales charge in January, with car sales surging 51.4%, good for a 24.3% market share.

A year ago, Renault was a leader in the “conserve cash” movement, selling stock and idling assembly lines. PSA car registrations were up 17.9% and sales of the entry-level Dacia brand soared 122%. The Sandero, the hatchback version of the Logan, was France’s fourth best-selling vehicle, Renault says.

Among other brands, only Nissan, at 18.6%, gained share in January. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Fiat, Hyundai, Toyota and Volkswagen all lost sales. Ford and Opel increases were smaller than the overall market’s 14.3%.

France has reduced its scrapping bonus for trading in an older car from €1,000 ($1,400) last year to €750 ($1,044) this year, but vehicles ordered before Dec. 31 still qualify for the larger rebate.

Since delivery times for cars ordered at a dealership rarely are less than six weeks in France, those ordered last year likely will increase sales through the first quarter.