Opel's Forster in a Catch-22 situation

Ruesselsheim. Adam Opel AG continues to make huge losses. In 2003 the automobile manufacturer posted an operating loss of 384 million euros, widening from a loss of 227 million euros a year earlier.

"We are not happy with this result but could not escape from the general economic situation," said Opel boss Carl-Peter Forster. He explained that "external market influences" such as exchange rates, resulted in losses of 369 million euros. Cost cuts of approximately 212 million euros could not compensate for that.

However, insiders told Automobilwoche that the result could have been much more positive if all of the German brand's European sales and production activities had been included in the earnings report. This was a demand by the works council. Had those results been included, Opel would have posted a break-even result. That is why in future Forster wants to communicate Adam Opel AG's results only "on a European level." "We want to help General Motors Europe make a profit of between zero and 100 million US dollars in 2004." In 2003 the AG's turnover dropped to 13.9 billion euros from 14.9 billion euros, while the German market share fell to 10.3 percent from 10.4 percent. Sales director Uhland Burkart attributed the drop to strong price pressures and the restructuring of the sales network: "That resulted in a volume loss, but that is a thing of the past now," he said.

In 2004 Opel hopes to increase its German market share to 10.8 percent (overall market: 3.39 million automobiles). Forster's Big Hope is the new AstrA: the five-door version will be launched in March. The three-door version will follow in March 2005 -- three months later than planned. The plan is to sell up to 45,000 units of a total production of 220,000 Astras in Germany in 2004. Customers who decide to buy the car before April 3 will receive a premium of 802 euros. Opel employees will receive an equipment bonus of 1,085 euros on top of the factory discount of 25 percent.

The unofficial launch schedule: the Astra Caravan and the Tigra Twin Top will be available from the autumn of 2004. In September 2005 the new Zafira will be launched and in 2006 the restyled Vectra and a compact SUV will be put on the market. The new Corsa will be launched by the end of 2006. No decisions have been made yet with regard to the new top model Insignia.

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