For the full year, Renault posted a sales drop of 4.2 percent in a world market that fell an overall 4.8 percent. Renault held its share of the world market for cars and light commercial vehicles steady at 3.6 percent in 2008.
Shares rose 6.7 percent to euro21.70 ($29.69) following the news.
Patrick Blain, head of sales and marketing, described the cave-in of the market from October as "violent and brutal" - and there could be worse to come.
The crisis "will clearly continue in 2009," he told a news conference. "The depth of this fall remains very difficult to predict."
Bleak prospects have caused auto makers worldwide to dramatically cut production. The steep decline in demand for cars has pushed Renault to abandon the sales targets of its four-year turnaround plan launched in 2006. A year ago it predicted a 10 percent growth in sales in 2008.
Renault gave little guidance for 2009.
Blain said the automaker's "absolute priority" in the current credit-starved climate is preventing a buildup of inventories.
He declined to comment on the impact on profits from aggressive price promotions and steep production cuts that have allowed Renault to meet its goal of cutting stocks of vehicles and parts in 2008.
Full financial results will be reported Feb. 12.
If sales drop further, Renault will cut production in line with the market, Blain said. He noted that for the moment inventories are under control, so further stoppages or job cuts are not expected.
The French carmaker said it hopes to increase its market share thanks to its range of budget and low-fuel-consumption models.
In 2008, Renault sold 2.38 million vehicles, down from 2.49 million in 2007.
In Europe, Renault sales fell 7.2 percent, including a 0.3 percent drop in its home market of France, which has been insulated from the worst of the crisis by government-sponsored schemes, including a euro1,000 ($1,361.70) bonus for buyers trading in older models for newer, less-polluting ones.
Global sales of the Renault brand fell 5.4 percent, while Renault's Korean unit Renault Samsung Motors reported a 12.6 percent sales drop.
Dacia, a Romanian subsidiary that makes the low-budget Logan family, reported a sales increase of 11.7 percent.
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