German Car Manufacturers Upbeat Even as European Crisis Continues

March 5, 2013
BMW head Norbert Reithofer voiced "cautious optimism." Daimler chief Dieter Zetsche said car manufacturer is growing in a declining market New Opel chief says market share grew in first two months of 2013

GENEVA -- German carmakers offered a rare ray of optimism at the International Geneva Motor Show Tuesday, with their heavy footprints outside of Europe allowing them to almost shrug off the continued crisis there.

With many car companies complaining on the first day of the show about the impact of Europe's economic woes, several of the German firms sounded all but upbeat as they described how their global presence was helping guide them through the difficult terrain.

The head of German carmaker BMW (IW 1000/36), Norbert Reithofer, for instance voiced "cautious optimism" for his company's performance this year.

Reithofer, whose company in addition to the BMW brand also sells Minis and Rolls-Royces, expects to see the global car market swell 4% to around 75 million vehicles this year.

2% Growth in U.S. Car Market Predicted

"The growth in the car market will be pulled by the United States, China and the emerging markets," he said, pointing out that he expects to see the overall car market grow 2% in the U.S. to nearly 15 million units and by 8.5% to more than 14 million units in China.

Daimler (IW 1000/18), which along with European leader Volkswagen raked in record net profits in 2012, also sounded almost optimistic at the show.

"We are still growing in a declining market," Daimler chief Dieter Zetsche told reporters.

And Volkswagen (IW 1000/10) saw its net profit soar 40% last year to 21.7 billion euros, pulling far ahead of Europe's second-in-line PSA Peugeot Citroen.

Opel Sales Less Than Stellar

German brand Opel, which belongs to U.S. giant General Motors (IW 500/4), had less reason to celebrate, with numbers from the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association suggesting its sales fell 16% last year.

Still, new CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann told AFP it had managed to grow its market-share in the first two months of the year.

"In this market environment, we are focusing on keeping our market share," he said, referring to the European crisis.

Daimler's Zetsche meanwhile acknowledged that his company had in Europe in 2013 "seen a very slow start in January [and] it seems that February continues at the same level."

He stressed though that the company expected to see improvements in the second half of the year.

"Of course, we are not immune to market developments [in Europe]," he said, but pointed out that "we are selling in the entire world."

BMW too said its outlook for Europe was all but cheery, with an expected 2% drop in overall sales there this year to some 12.3 million vehicles.

Volatility in European Market

This year will remain "very volatile" and "Europe will become a bigger challenge," Reithofer said.

But while he doesn't expect the volatility of the European market to settle for the next five years, Reithofer stressed that BMW still had other markets to fall back on.

In the first two months of the year, the group's global sales rose six percent thanks to its broad presence on other continents, he said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013

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