FRANKFURT -- Why is General Motors looking for a way out of Europe?
That's easy. While home to many of the oldest and most venerable car brands in the world, Europe also may be the most brutally competitive and demanding market, with a complicated patchwork of regulations under which a host of American, European and Asian brands do battle.
Thanks to the effects of the ongoing eurozone debt crisis, volumes in Europe remain roughly 1 million vehicles off the 2007 pre-crisis peaks. Growth essentially comes solely from replacement demand as population growth in the region is largely stagnant and vehicle ownership rates remain unchanged.
With fewer cars sold in the past decade, industry overcapacity became a bigger and bigger problem. Former General Motors CEO Dan Akerson famously said five years ago that Europe had anywhere between seven to 10 car plants too many. Since then, just three have been shut: Ford's factory in Genk, Belgium, PSA's assembly lines in Aulnay, France, and GM's own Zafira MPV site in Bochum, Germany.
Even if this was fixed, the market itself is anything but lucrative. Dealer throughput is a fraction of that in the U.S., making it harder for retailers to refurbish and invest. Sales are dominated by small, low-margin cars with downsized engines often no larger than 1.6 liters, half of which are diesels needed to meet burdensome carbon emission targets. Four of the five top-selling models last year were subcompact hatchbacks, according to JATO Dynamics.