New-look auto sector could emerge from crisis

21st April 2009, Comments 1 comment

Within 10 years, sales will be boosted by electric and hybrid vehicles, but a wave of high-profile auto mergers is unlikely, especially cross-border deals since cultural differences scuppered earlier attempts, analysts say.

Frankfurt -- The global auto industry will be remodelled once economic crisis debris is cleared, but analysts are hazy over how many giants will be humming, which ones will be hauled away and where cars will be made.

Within 10 years, sales will be boosted by electric and hybrid vehicles, but a wave of high-profile auto mergers is unlikely, especially cross-border deals since cultural differences scuppered earlier attempts, analysts say.

"I think the test will be this year," Metzler Bank auto analyst Juergen Pieper told AFP when asked about potential moves within the sector.

"If we don't see action this year, then we will get back to normal in the next two-three years," after plunging demand has hit bottom.

IHS Global Insight said industry forecasts "predict a 20 percent slump in vehicle production in the 27 EU members between the start of 2008 and the end of 2009," with a revenue loss of 60 billion euros (78 billion dollars).

Martin Winterkorn, head of Europe's biggest car maker Volkswagen, said last week that once the crisis had passed, he was "certain there would remain two car makers in France, at least three in Germany, and at least two in Japan."

"I'm not worried about the automobile's future in Europe," Winterkorn told the French Journal de l'Automobile.

Cars will also be made in China, South Korea and the United States, he said.

Fiat chief executive Sergio Marchionne has claimed only six major car makers would survive the global slump.

"As far as mass-producers are concerned, we're going to end up with one American, one German of size, one French-Japanese, maybe with an extension in the US, one in Japan, one in China and one potential European player," he told the Automotive News Europe in December.

German auto expert Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer scoffed at Marchionne's forecast, telling AFP it was "an old story" told years ago that should have seen General Motors become "the biggest and strongest car maker in the world."

"The opposite is true," he noted as GM seeks 30 billion dollars in emergency aid from the US government.

Dudenhoeffer, Pieper and Willi Dietz from the German IFA Institute for Automotive Business agreed that closer cooperation in research and development and production was the only way for European companies to achieve economies of scale.

IHS Global Insight said more than 20 billion euros are invested annually in European auto research and development.

"We will see much more cooperation between the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers)," Dietz said, using the industry term for brand-name car makers.

He pointed to ongoing work between BMW and Peugeot of France, BMW and German rival Daimler, and Mitsubishi of Japan and Peugeot in electric cars.

These last are essential for manufacturers, and a first wave of prototypes is already being shown at auto shows.

"The next wave will start I think by about 2015-2020, when we will see cars that are designed for you and me," Dietz said.

Mergers however were risky, he noted, citing attempts by BMW and Rover, and Daimler-Chrysler, both of which stumbled as corporate culture clashes rendered the businesses "very complex to manage."

Pieper agreed major mergers were unlikely unless the crisis lasted longer than expected or deepened, and cash-burn left car makers running on empty.

In that case, political considerations might push French groups Renault and Peugot together, and BMW and Daimler into a German tie-up, he speculated.

"These are the most likely mergers in Europe," the bank analyst said, while stressing they were long-shots.

Fiat is now pursuing a merger with Chrysler, but denied Friday it might also tie up with Opel.

Manufacturing was sure to move to Eastern Europe, Russia, China and South America meanwhile, with Opel plants in Belgium, Britain and Germany possibly near the end of the road, the analysts said.

"If you want to sell a car in China, you have to produce a car in China," Dietz said. "If you want to sell a car in Brazil or Argentina or Mexico you have to produce there, you can't export cars from Europe to this region."

With European overcapacity tipped to reach 35 percent this year, Pieper added: "In the end, the victims could be, as always, the Belgians.

"Opel has one plant in Belgium but pressure and lobbying are not as strong" as in big EU countries, he explained.

With a German election looming, no job cuts would be unveiled there before late in the year, he said.

Low-volume producers like Saab of Sweden were the most likely to disappear, but Dietz said: "I don't want to damage brands by saying they have no chance."

Dudenhoeffer said Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche showed manufacturers could also make profits, though the latter two are owned by Fiat and VW.

The specialist stressed that Europe had "a lot of very successful small car makers."


1 Comment To This Article

  • Ojo Taiwo posted:

    on 18th June 2009, 04:23:17 - Reply

    The crisis facing the auto industry is not intractable.It is a temporary one.How soon it will recover whether two years or ten years and extent it will rebound will depend on the committment of governments in the large economies.It will require a lot of courage and economic ingeniuty which the world do not lack.It will also depend on the rate at which the whole economy is revitalised because only a bouyant economy will produce a robust auto industry.I do not believe we should be too certain about the future since any forecast made now will only depend if present economic variables do not change significantly.