Top carmakers let cautious optimism creep into their outlooks at the Paris Auto Show on Thursday, pinning hopes on emerging markets to dispel dark clouds over major western economies.
This is the first auto show that looks beyond the crisis. Carmakers' attitude has changed. We see a slightly rosier future but it's too early to open champagne bottles, Fiat SpA Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne said.
Marchionne said the Italian carmaker now expected to report a net profit this year as good sales in Latin America this month helped offset weakness in Italy and Europe.
Volkswagen AG has turned slightly more optimistic, the sales chief for Europe's top carmaker told reporters, forecasting the global car market will grow by 6-7 percent this year, more than the 5 percent he had seen before.
There are still risks but we increasingly see more reason to view developments more positively than before, Christian Klingler said as Europe's top auto show this year kicked off.
Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of both French group Renault SA and Japanese partner Nissan Motor Co, said Europe's car market could fall 2 percent next year, adding: Growth of 3 to 4 percent globally (in 2011) would be completely reasonable.
Automakers in Europe have braced for pain as cash-for-clunkers schemes that many countries introduced to spur demand during the financial crisis expire. Budget cuts to shore up stretched public finances won't help consumer spending.
We are probably in for a slow continued recovery around all markets. But there will probably be some austerity measures in some countries that will change that outlook, Ford of Europe
chairman and chief executive Stephen Odell told reporters.
Carmakers are counting on brisk growth in emerging markets such as Brazil, China, and India to take up the slack.
It is no news that the first place is China for most of us, definitely for Mercedes, but it does not stop there, Daimler Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche told Reuters Insider.
Within the BRIC countries certainly Russia is taking up again, Brazil -- in the volume segment more than the premium segment -- is growing very fast, meanwhile overtaking Germany as a car market. And we have as well in India good sales rises.
PSA Peugeot Citroen Chief Executive Philippe Varin took a similar line. In emerging countries we are going to see continuing growth. In Europe we think 2010 is a low point, so 2011 should be higher or equal to 2010. We do not see huge growth in 2011 on the horizon, he said.
VW's premium brand Audi expected to sell more than 300,000 cars a year in China as early as 2012 and in 2013 at the latest, it said, adding it planned to expand production capacity there with partner FAW Group in the medium term.
Booming demand in China helped German sports car maker Porsche AG post record revenues.
The European car market was not expected to return to the pre-crisis level of sales it achieved in 2007 until around 2013.
GM's Opel division said the western European car market had hit bottom but would stay depressed in 2011.
To counter unrelenting pressure, carmakers have sought more partners to cut costs and boost efficiency.
Volkswagen Chairman Ferdinand Piech cast an eye on Fiat's Alfa Romeo brand and Japanese group Nissan Motor said it will explore broader cooperation with Daimler.
13 is my lucky number, Piech said late on Wednesday, referring to the number of brands his group would have if it bought Alfa in VW's race to topple Toyota Motor Corp as the world's top automaker.
Marchionne reiterated that Alfa was not for sale.
Infiniti, Nissan's luxury brand, will talk to the maker of Mercedes-Benz cars about sharing a Daimler sedan platform and its engines, a Nissan executive said, fleshing out a three-way alliance including Renault.
Many carmakers were set to unveil zero-emission electric cars, testing whether consumers were ready to pay for vehicles that remove internal combustion engines from the environmental equation.
Car sales in many major markets including France, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the United States were due out on October 1.
(Additional reporting by David Bailey and James Regan, Writing by Michael Shields; Editing by Hans Peters and David Holmes)