As the world economy sags (or sinks, some would say), the car czars are finally taking note. Pent-up demand has kept the big guys afloat, and so has China. But the European crisis and the endemic sickness of the U.S. economy are hard to ignore.
Looking at next year, Carlos Ghosn (above) forecasts “very great uncertainty for the time being.” The CEO of Renault and Nissan says customers are presently skeptical but not yet “defensive.”
Both his companies are currently doing well, but who would not be uneasy, given the signals from around the world, including slowing demand for cars in China?
Dan Akerson, the GM CEO, looks for flat U.S. sales in 2012. Like others, he “sees the EU crisis as the biggest threat to auto sales and to the global economy.” Akerson predicts 2012 light-vehicle sales will be similar in numbers (12.7 million) to this year’s.
The least gloomy, naturally, is Sergio Marchionne (right). He is working hard to improve Fiat’s reputation in Europe, even as it continues sinking in sales. Chrysler is indeed on a better path, beating Fiat’s operating profit by 87 percent.
He is putting more resources into Chrysler, cushioning Fiat (which desperately needs new product), and hoping that Alfa Romeo’s belated introduction to the U.S. will save the Italian firm. But “Chrysler is still a question mark,” says one analyst in Bloomberg’s story on these developments.
Marchionne is pessimistic in his outlook for Europe and has not been shy about saying so. I think reviving Alfa in the U.S. is indeed the better option if the cars can be made reliable, attractive and sporty. Most buyers don’t know or care about Alfa’s past history, either here or in Europe.
In Germany, Daimler’s stock has dropped 28 percent this year, even as Mercedes has sold record numbers of cars. What does that tell you?
Meanwhile, the European Union continues its avoidance of wide-scale debt restructuring, and Americans remain mired in political and economic dysfunction. No sensible industry leader could see anything but gloom ahead.
How many of you are planning to buy a new car in the next six months?