Despite a dramatic drop in new vehicle sales in the new millennium, Poland's future is starting to look brighter.
Auto marketers believe a recovery is starting after a national economic crisis plunged the Polish market into chaos in 2000 and 2001. Polish car sales fell only 5.5 percent last year and starting recovering in July. In 2002, sales were 308,217, down from a 1999 peak of 640,186.
If no legislative roadblocks appear, sales this year could grow up to 7 percent, said Wojtek Drzewiecki, head of Samar auto research.
Gains are going to vehicle importers such as Skoda, Renault and Toyota - not domestic manufacturers FSO Daewoo, Fiat and Opel.
"The situation is very bad for them - they are going down every month," said Drzewiecki. "In 1999, they had a 74 percent market share. Now they have a little more than 15 percent."
The biggest question mark is FSO Daewoo-Warsaw. After its Korean parent went bankrupt and the reformed GM Daewoo didn't include the Polish plant, Daewoo sales in Poland fell to 18,070 units last year from 39,910 in 2001. MG Rover and Hyundai have expressed interest in the Daewoo plant. Negotiations are believed to be directly between creditor banks and potential buyers.
Fiat Auto Poland is also losing market share, from 30 percent to 18 percent in 2002. Seicento sales fell by 10,000 units to 29,303.
Both Fiat and Opel will freshen their model lineups this autumn. Fiat Poland will launch the locally built Gingo in September to compete with the Daewoo Matiz. The Gingo will end the Matiz's local advantage as the only five-door model in the segment in Poland, said Toyota Product Manager Maciej Kilin.
Opel's factory in Gliwice will add the Astra to Agila production. But it will build an older version of the Astra, using tooling from Germany.
Drzewiecki argues the Gingo strategy does not make Poland a second-tier country.
"Looking at GM, yes," he said. "But with the Gingo, Poland is the only place of production."
Automakers are focusing on building major components in Poland rather than complete cars, Drzewiecki said.
"Toyota's transmission plant in Walbrzych is being expanded to make engines for Toyota and PSA's Czech joint venture. And Toyota is building a E170 million diesel engine factory near Wroclaw. Besides making engines and transmissions in Poland, VW is building light commercial vehicles at a new plant in Poznan.
New suppliers are also moving in. For example, Valeo will build a plant in Chrzanow, to open in late 2004.