Auto Giants Stake Out Strategies in Crisis-Hit Europe

GM, Volkswagen, Ford, Fiat and others strategize to support European sales and production.

Auto giants staked out positions on March 6 in a weak European market, with General Motors Co. standing by Opel, Fiat open to global alliances and Volkswagen aiming to match 2011's record earnings.

"Any talk of insolvency should be off the table, any talk that we are not committed to Europe should be off the table," declared Stephen Girsky, vice president of General Motors.

"We are committed to Opel and Vauxhall in Europe," he stressed in reference to GM's two struggling European subsidiaries.

"There is no debate whether the Vauxhall name is important or not. We know it is very important and we have no plans to walk away from it," Girsky told journalists at the Geneva Motor Show.

GM had initially decided to sell Opel/Vauxhall but changed its mind after its own rescue by the U.S. government in 2009, and is now trying to turn the European units around itself.

Girsky said GM has been talking to both the British and German governments on the future of its activities in Europe, which have suffered from the crisis in the eurozone, and would continue with these discussions.

GM also signalled that its alliance with French group PSA Peugeot Citroen, announced last week, would soon start to deliver cost savings.

"Some of the product programs and purchasing initiatives will start to be developed" in the second half of 2012, Girsky said.

Meanwhile Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne said the GM-PSA accord did not block any avenues in the Italian group's search for global alliances.

Fiat "remains open" to opportunities for alliances around the world, he said, adding that the group was interested in partnering "all" firms except those which are incompatible, such as Volkswagen and Daimler.

Marchionne revealed that he would meet Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn on March 7.

"Renault is technically compatible with Fiat," said the Fiat boss, who has been credited with turning around the Italian company and engineering an ambitious partnership with Chrysler.

Nissan-Renault reported a 10-percent jump in global sales for 2011, and Ghosn had said that he expects another sales record this year.

On March 6, Nissan also announced that it would invest $198 million to build a new hatchback compact car in Britain, creating 2,000 jobs in the process.

The new car model, called Invitation, is to be assembled in northeastern England's Sunderland, said Andy Palmer, executive vice president of the group.

Another automaker that has posted strong 2011 results, German giant Volkswagen, said it was aiming to match last year's record earnings this year.

While acknowledging that it would be "a difficult year," the group wants to "try to achieve 2011 results," said Martin Winterkorn, who heads the group.

The German group's 2011 net profit more than doubled to reach a record $20 billion.

Winterkorn said that strong demand in emerging markets -- Russia, China, India and South America would again be the growth engine for the group.

Ford Europe's chief executive Stephen Odell meanwhile said his firm was in "a better position than many of our own competitors" and signaled that it has the flexibility of doing away with temporary labour should demand fall.

Our "key strengths are that we can flex capacity when we need to," he said.

The group is not planning to shut any plants, Odell said. But neither was it ruling out the option.

"Ford have got a strong history of taking the decisions they have to. And clearly if we see that industries running at very low levels for a period of time then we'll consider all actions that we have to take," he said.

Copyright 2012, Agence France-Presse


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