Exclusive outtakes from industry leaders
A glimmer of light in a world of darkness for stressed-out car industry managers. Jacques Aschenbroich (pronounce Ashenbrough), the new CEO at French car supplier Valeo has been visiting the Frankfurt and Tokyo motorshows, as well as travelling to places such as China.
“This is not a dying industry, this is an industry in strong mutation,” is the verdict of the man who joined Valeo in March after a career with construction materials group Saint-Gobain.
For him the future is about smaller cars (in size and engine) that are more comfortable and safer.
In the more immediate future of 2010, he said he looked at the year with caution and added ”Everything can happen, even good news.”
A few years ago, one of the guests at our annual Reuters Autos Summit — Tom Stallkamp from Ripplewood — pretty much stopped everyone dead in their tracks by predicting that auto sales in the United States was likely to fall to an obscenely low level of 14.5 million.
Those were the days.
Of course, Stallkamp was making that prediction at a time when U.S. car manufacturers were selling in the neighborhood of 16 to 17 million a year. If the number hits 14.5 million in 2010, people will be wild with enthusiasm as most now expect something in a range of 10 to 11 million.
When General Motors rolled out its new “May the Best Car Win” ad campaign this fall, it turned its competitive fire on Toyota Motor Corp, rather than one of its Detroit competitors.
Toyota, which last year displaced GM as the world’s largest carmarker, takes the ads — which compare the Chevy Malibu with the Toyota Camry — as something of a compliment.
“When Ford names Toyota and not Chevrolet and when Chevrolet names Toyota and not Ford, that speaks to some consumers about our position in the market,” Toyota group vice president and general manager Bob Carter told the Reuters Autos Summit in Detroit. “So it’s not all bad.”
But the Japanese automaker has no interest in getting drawn into an advertising tit-for-tat similar to Apple Inc’s “Get a Mac” ads, which compare a young, hip actor representing a Macintosh computer with a dowdy middle aged actor playing a PC run by Microsoft’s Windows operating system.
“We think the most effective way to approach the market is to talk about our products and our brands,” Carter said.
The first week of November may provide more clues about the health of the U.S. auto industry.
On Monday, Ford reports third quarter results. On Tuesday, automakers release October sales figures. And, on Wednesday Chrysler’s new CEO Sergio Marchionne is expected to unveil his 5-year turnaround plan for the company. Auto industry veteran Michelle Krebs, Senior Analyst at Edmunds.com, joins us to preview the week ahead. Speaker: Michelle Krebs Sr. Analyst, Edmunds.com Presenter: Ruben Ramirez Dearborn, Michigan
There is only one market really booming in the world and that is China, pity Peugeot only has a very small market share there.
Nicolas Wertans, deputy managing director of the Peugeot brand at Europe’s second-biggest carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen, recently went to Beijing.
One of the big challenges for French carmaker Renault, which ranks third in the world with Japanese partner Nissan and Russian ally AvtoVAZ, is that it is too complex, chief operating officer Patrick Pelata told the Reuters Automotive Summit.
“Renault is a complicated company,” he said and explained how many carmakers had embraced a matrix organisation to deal with their international expansion. “We’re definitely more complicated than Nissan,” he said.
The chief financial officer of Corning glass, James Flaws, told the Reuters Global Technology Summit in New York that he read from the 158-year-old company’s official history and drew on his own experience to explain to younger managers what these downturns mean.
Standby for more trouble ahead in west European car markets. Emmanuel Bulle of credit rating agency Fitch told the Reuters Auto Summit in Paris that sales in West Europe were down only 5 percent from their peak while historically the downturn went to minus 20 percent.
“The slowdown in France started only 6 months ago and we won’t see a real downturn until 2009,” he noted, while the German market seemed more resilient but that was based on a relatively negative performance in 2007. Spain is falling on property worries which have led customers to postpone buying a car.
Customers also await new tax rules on polluting cars and the development of second-hand values for cars with ‘old’ technology.
Bulle said that in West Europe some 80 percent of cars were sold on credit and some 20 to 30 percent via the financing operations of a carmaker. If the credit crisis would make refinancing for these ‘captive’ lenders difficult and they would need to stop contracting new loans, carmakers could lose a fifth of their sales.