The downturn in the German car industry has bottomed out but it will take time before sales recover to the levels of recent years, the president of Germany's car industry association (VDA) said on Saturday.

VDA President Matthias Wissmann told the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung newspaper that the steep drop in exports since the autumn of 2008 had finally been brought to a halt.

We're seeing a stabilisation at a lower level, he said.

Now the issue at hand is to try to work our way out of this deep valley, he said, adding he expected to start seeing some light at the end of the tunnel at the Frankfurt car show in September.

There we'll be able to see the first elements of the coming upturn , he said. But there is no quick magic solutions. He said it will take longer to return to the previous sales levels.

The automobile industry is one of Germany's most important sectors. It is also heavily reliant on exports.

The German government helped prop up the car industry with a 5-billion euro ($7 billion) cash-for-clunkers scheme earlier this year that runs until Dec. 31 or when the cash runs out.

The popular incentive programme gives new car buyers a 2,500 euro rebate for scrapping cars that are at least nine years old. The scheme has funds for 2 million new cars. Buyers of more than 1.7 million new cars have already claimed their rebate.

(Writing by Erik Kirschbaum; editing by William Hardy)