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Good News For GM Europe’s Opel-Vauxhall At Last

General Motor’s Opel-Vauxhall subsidiary in Europe finally has some good news to report.

Its market share in the first four months of 2013 improved for the first time in a long time. As overall sales in Western Europe slid 7.0 per cent from January through April to 3.9 million, Opel-Vauxhall’s only fell 5.9 per cent to 264,000, hence the market share improvement to 6.7 per cent from 6.6 per cent in the same period of 2012, according to data from the European Car Manufacturers Association.

That’s not much, but it’s a long time since Opel-Vauxhall had some positive news

Western Europe managed to pull out of its long term slide in April, with a 1.9 per cent increase to just over one million. That’s good news for a market approaching 20 year lows. But IHS Automotive pointed out that this isn’t quite what it seems after correcting for the distortions imposed by Easter, which was early in 2013.

“The picture is less favorable (after smoothing out the Easter effect) – but nevertheless shows that, compared to the dreadful start of this year, the trend may slowly, very slowly, be starting to change. Is this the “slowdown-in-the-collapse” that the industry is waiting for? Let’s hope so,” IHS analyst Carlos Da Silva said.

Ford Europe was a big loser, with sales down 15.7 per cent in the four months to 289,000. Any pleasure GM derived from Opel-Vauxhall’s performance would have been dashed by Chevrolet’s sales dive of 33.6 per cent to 39,200. Standout performer was Dacia, Renault of France’s cheap and cheerful subsidiary with sales up 20.3 per cent to over 70,000.

Europe’s car makers like Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault-Nissan are under no illusions about the bleak future.

“I think 2013 is going to be tough and I don’t foresee any growth in Europe probably before the 2016, or even later,” Ghosn told a news conference in Yokohama, Japan, earlier this week when the latest data was still unofficial.

“We think the European consumer lacks confidence. The European consumer is confused, he doesn’t know when Europe is going to get out of this crisis and until he sees or understands what’s going on in Europe, I don’t think he’s going to buy cars,” Ghosn said, quoted by Reuters.

Credit Suisse analyst Erich Hauser said vehicle stocks are rising, and that contradicts  talk of a second half recovery.

“We show that inventories for the industry have grown faster than normal with 103 days supply for the overall industry at the end of the quarter as European production, down eight per cent, once again fell less than demand – minus 9.7 per cent. Yet despite the increase in vehicle stocks and the slower than expected start to the year, manufacturers and suppliers alike remain resolutely bullish about production recovery from the second quarter onwards,” Hauser said.

Morgan Stanley analyst Stuart Pearson wonders if April’s surprisingly robust sales mark the end of the trough.

“For now the evidence, while encouraging, is not nearly sufficient to call a European trough. May/June sales figures will remain key,” Pearson said.

IHS’s Da Silva pointed out that only one car company had actually sold more cars this year than the same period last year and that was Mercedes, up by only 7,000.

Earlier this year Mercedes launched its new little A class, to big media acclaim.

Neil Winton – May, 2013


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