Carmakers give cautious forecasts for 2005

Analysts expect slight improvement for auto industry in Germany

Munich. An Automobilwoche poll shows that industry experts believe vehicle sales in Germany, which have been on a downward trend for four years, will increase only marginally next year.

The biggest problem in Germany is still consumers' high levels of purchasing restraint, says Ulrich Winzen from market researcher Polk Marketing Systems in Essen. He believes consumer confidence only will improve slightly during the coming months. There still is a general unease among Germans over the country's new social security legislation.

Bernd Gottschalk, president of the German auto industry association (VDA), says he thinks there is a good chance that unit sales will exceed the 3.24 million vehicles he expects will be sold in Germany in 2004. "We have an advantage in 2005: Our new models." Those include new BMW 1 series and 3 series, the Mercedes-Benz A class and the Opel Astra.

But Gottschalk doesn't make a prediction on how many more cars will be sold in Germany next year.

Christoph Stuermer, a Frankfurt analyst with Global Insight, forecasts a 3.1 percent increase in new registrations in Germany to 3.34 million vehicles in 2005. Stuermer says positive unit sales figures in Germany during the last two months of 2004 give him reason to be optimistic about 2005.

Importers want to improve unit sales

Rolf Leuchtenberger, president of the German Federation for Motor Trades and Repairs (ZDK), expects unit sales to grow only to 3.25 million vehicles in 2005.

The same figure is written in a market forecast by the German Motor Vehicle Importers Association (VDIK). According to the forecast, all VDIK members believe that they will sell more vehicles in 2005 than in 2004.

Nissan and Peugeot expect the highest growth. Each company aims to sell 18,000 more vehicles in German next year compared with 2004. That would increase Nissan's sales to 75,000 units and Peugeot's total to 148,500.

Toyota is not so bullish. The Japanese carmaker, which expects approximately 127,000 new registrations this year, predicts an increase of just 3,000 vehicles.

The Germans also are cautious. Ford-Werke boss Bernhard Mattes says he looks at the development of Europe's largest market with "restrained optimism." He says Ford will benefit from a full-year of sales of the second-generation Focus, but be also believes that discount battles will continue to impact the bottom line.

Says Opel sales boss Jean-Marc Gales: "There is no sign for an economic upswing. At best the market will stagnate. However, we are now paving the way for us to grow against the trend." Part of Opel's ongoing sales offensive includes increasing its dealer network.

Joachim Schmidt, head of sales at the Mercedes Car Group, says that the German market will grow between 1 percent and 2 percent in 2005. He says he remains cautious despite the brand's upcoming model offensive because he believes that the general conditions in Germany -- high unemployment, rising taxes and little economic growth -- will not change.

Only BMW's optimism remains unbroken. "I am confident regarding the market development in Germany in 2005," says Ludwig Willisch. The luxury carmaker's sales director for Germany has a lot to look forward to. He'll have a full year of sales of the new 1 series in 2005 and the 3 series will be launched in March.

A separate poll done by the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) also reflects insecurity. The DIHK survey questioned 250 automakers and suppliers about their business expectations. The results were:

  • 37 percent said they had "good expectations"

  • 43 percent expect "satisfactory" results

  • 20 percent believe future prospects look grim.
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