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Carmakers fight for market share in crisis

  Green technologies hogged the limelight for a second day at the Geneva Motor Show on Wednesday, while crisis-hit carmakers shied away from making sales forecasts but pledged to target market share gains.

Fiat unveiled Multiair – a new system of engine valves for the gasoline engine, the latest in a trend towards smaller, more powerful motors that consume less fuel and emit fewer emissions. And fellow Italian manufacturer Pininfarina launched a project to rent out its Bluecar electric vehicle, in a joint venture with France’s Bollore, which is supplying its lithium-metal-polymer battery.

French financier Vincent Bollore told Reuters he would consider taking a stake in the family group if it needed an industrial partner. Bollore makes its own batteries and capacitors in Brittany and these are a key part of the technological challenge for the future of the electrical vehicle. Many large car groups are now also working on the first models.

Peugeot managing director Jean-Philippe Collin declined to give a target for sales of electric vehicles, which the group is due to launch in 2010, in partnership with Mitsubishi Motors. He could not give a target for overall sales of the French brand, but said that its “only ambition” was to boost market share. Renault said yesterday it was sticking to its objective of 20,000-40,000 electric vehicle sales in 2011.

Chevrolet Europe was one of the few carmakers willing to make any sort of prediction for 2009, and said it expected to make a profit.. Volkswagen head Martin Winterkorn earlier this week indicated he also assumed his company would make a profit this year but declined to quantify.

Sports car maker Lamborghini’s chief executive said it would be “a challenge” for the company to make a profit this year, after early sales skidded by nearly 40%.


But government measures to boost demand for new cars and encourage consumers to scrap older, more polluting vehicles, appear to be working, Peugeot’s Collin said, with the company seeing “some good news” in Germany.

German autos industry association the VDA said on Tuesday scrapping incentives helped new car sales in Europe’s biggest market leap by more than a fifth in February.

Carlo Sinceri, president of international motor vehicle manufacturers’ association echoed Collin’s comments in an interview with Reuters, saying that governments had “lost a few months” in implementing help measures, but that they were now starting to show results.

“Even if in January and February many important markets worldwide still had weak results we already have some signs of improvement, especially in the countries where governments have taken the decision to stimulate demand.”

But measures were also needed to help the commercial vehicle market, Sinceri added. “There is still work to do in explaining to governments how serious the situation is,” he said.

Meanwhile the future of General Motors European units, which include Germany’s Opel and Vauxhall in the UK, remained unclear. Germany’s Deputy Economy Minister Dagmar Woehrl said GM had offered GM Europe €3 billion ($3.76 billion) of help, without giving further details.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told party colleagues that Opel was not systemically crucial to the German economy, a conservative official said on Wednesday. In contrast ministers in Merkel’s cabinet have frequently said that the government would not allow the failure of financial institutions deemed to be of "systemic relevance" to the German economy.


Nissan Motor Co, Japan’s third-biggest automaker, expects its global output to fall nearly 30 per cent in April-September, a source familiar with the plans said, as crumbling sales in North America and other main markets trigger production cutbacks throughout the industry.

Caught in a spiral of tight credit and consumer caution, US auto sales plunged more than 41% in February to the lowest level in almost three decades.

Nissan unveiled its April-September target of about 1.3 million vehicles at a briefing for auto parts makers, but gave no target for the second half of the business year due to an uncertain sales outlook, said the source, who was not authorized to speak on the matter publicly.

Nissan spokesman Yuichi Nakagawa said the company had briefed parts makers on its output plans but declined to reveal figures.

The automaker’s production for the current business year to the end of this month is likely to fall 17% to 2.93 million vehicles, missing its February projection by 130,000 units and falling below the 3 million level for the first time in six years, the Nikkei business daily reported on Wednesday.

Toyota Motor Corp’s production is expected to drop 12% on a parent basis in the business year to March 2010, while Honda Motor Co sees a 3-9% slide in output, the paper said.

Nissan, 44%-owned by Renault SA, has predicted a first annual loss in years for this business year, and is taking steps to slim down its operations to return to profit. (Reuters)