Survey: Growing pessimism in German automobile industry

Wiesbaden. If morale within the automobile industry seemed to be on a slight upward trend in December 2002, by the first quarter of 2003 it has fallen significantly.

These are the findings of an exclusive business-climate index survey for Automobilwoche by ACON.

Ten months after the first part of the study was undertaken, the mood within the industry reached an absolute low at only 57.2 points. Within this period the index has fallen by nearly 10 points or 14 percent.

The quarterly survey in which approximately 100 companies -- manufacturers, suppliers, banks and dealers -- take part showed that most of them are highly frustrated with the current situation.

According to the ACON survey, suppliers currently are the least optimistic.

The index has dropped from 54.5 points in the last quarter to 47 points. The original equipment manufacturers' (OEMs) weak order books have a great impact on manufacturers of components -- therefore morale within management circles is low.

When looking two to three years ahead expectations within the supply sector are not high either. The index dropped from 72.7 points in December 2002 to 59.1 points in the first quarter of 2003 - in the long-term the industry expects business to decline further.

Automobile manufacturers' expectations for the economic outlook are similar: they have reached their lowest ebb at 61.4 points, which reflects on the decreasing number of new car registrations in the last three months.

Although the satisfaction index for the first quarter of 2003 has risen by 5.4 points to 67.9 points, the index of their expectations for the next three months has fallen to 58.2. A

According to ACON the judgment of how business will develop within the next few years is almost as depressing: the index has dropped from 84.4 points in the last quarter to 67.4 points. Automobile manufacturers see "no light at the end of the tunnel", not even in the long run.

The ACON Institute in Wiesbaden believes, now that the Iraq war is over, that survey results will become more interesting once the economic situation in Germany can be seen clearer. It would then be possible to find out if the slow economy was really due to consumers' fear of losing their jobs and therefore spending and investing less money.

Morale among financial service providers has risen by 13.2 points, which indicates that the demand for loans, leases and credits will rise in future. This is based on the belief that the demand for replacement cars in Germany is high and the current credit offers are very attractive.

There are no feelings of "spring awakening" within the automobile dealer business either, according to ACON. Dealers believe that the next quarter will not bring many changes. There is not much hope for the usually good sales months.

ACON chairman Juergen Freitaeger said: "Factors such as [gasoline] prices, tax conditions and the general consumer climate will be crucial to the immediate future of the industry.

The current development seems to be pushing the automobile industry towards making necessary structural changes. Those who did their homework and found ways of optimizing the process will survive."

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