Automakers Prepare for Deeper Europe Slump
Ford Motor Co. (F), Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW), Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) and their competitors are preparing for a deeper slump in European sales after deliveries at the beginning of the year were at the low end of their expectations.
“The market is very difficult,” Didier Leroy, Toyota’s chief for the region, told reporters at the Geneva International Motor Show. “The start of the year is even worse in terms of the market than was planned a few months ago.”
Toyota and BMW are predicting a contraction of about 5 percent in Europe this year, the fifth straight annual decline, as the sovereign debt crisis prompts people to rein in spending. Deliveries tumbled 6.6 percent to 1 million vehicles in January, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association said, with the decline accelerating from a 1.4 percent drop during 2011.
General Motors Co. (GM), which lost $747 million in Europe last year, announced plans last week to team with PSA Peugeot Citroen in a bid to turn around operations. Fiat SpA (F), which controls Chrysler Group LLC, is talking “continuously” with Suzuki Motor Corp. (7269) and Mazda Motor Corp. (7261) of Japan, Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne said in Geneva today, while BMW is seeking a partner in North America, where luxury sales are more buoyant.
Ford, which predicts a loss of as much as $600 million in Europe in 2012, is stopping production on some days to cut inventory, Stephen Odell, its chief for the region, said at the Swiss show late yesterday.
“Clearly the demand is at the lower end or indeed below the lower end of our expectations,” Odell said. “Frankly, it’s almost impossible to predict.”
BMW said today it’s in talks with GM on various topics as it seeks a U.S. ally, adding that the Detroit-based carmaker’s accord with Peugeot doesn’t threaten its own cooperation with the French company on hybrid technology and engines for the Mini small car. Stephen Girsky, GM’s vice chairman, declined to comment on any negotiations with BMW today.
“Europe will be an uphill battle,” Norbert Reithofer, BMW’s CEO, said in Geneva. Demand in China should increase by at least 10 percent, with “high single-digit” growth in North America, where the Munich-based company may add extra capacity, he added, with Mexico “always a place to look at.”
Forced to Blink
Automakers are struggling to make a profit in Europe as overcapacity, which executives estimate at around 20 percent, forces them to increase incentives and lower prices. Fiat and GM are the only companies to have shut European plants in recent years amid political pressure and union opposition to closures.
“The European financial crisis is having an enormous impact on the auto industry and -- once again -- is shining a light on the serious problem of manufacturing overcapacity,” Michelle Krebs, a senior industry analyst with Edmunds.com, said from Geneva. “The current financial crisis may force someone to blink, and the unions and governments to get on board.”
The GM-Peugeot alliance will jointly develop and build vehicles and combine purchasing operations, though the two have yet to say whether it will result in job reductions or factories closing. Peugeot will sell shares in a 1 billion-euro (1.32 billion) capital increase at a 42 percent discount, it said today, with the money directed at “strategic projects with GM.”
French Labor Minister Xavier Bertrand warned Peugeot Chief Executive Officer Philippe Varin last month against cutting jobs as a result of the GM deal. President Nicolas Sarkozy, who’s running for re-election this year, summoned Varin in November to ask him to reconsider plans to cut as many as 6,800 posts, including temporary staff employed by partners.