|Sales of personal cars are on the decline in Europe. Click to enlarge. Source: ACEA|
European automakers will approach to European Commission (EC) seeking €40 billion in loans (US$54 billion) to support their shift to lower GHG-emitting vehicles, according to Fiat CEO and former ACEA (European Automobile Manufacturers Association) president Sergio Marchionne, in interviews given to several financial newspapers at the Paris Motor Show.
The request mirrors the new program of US$25 billion in loans from the US government to domestic automakers and suppliers for retooling factories to produces more fuel-efficient vehicles. (Earlier post.)
In an interview with the Financial Times, Marchionne said that European manufacturers were unanimous in the approach to the EC.
“We will approach the European Commission for a similar idea to [that of] the US: €40bn is a good number given the bigger size of the European industry. We need a level playing field,” Mr Marchionne said. The US loan has caused concern among German carmakers such as Volkswagen. They think it could discriminate against foreign manufacturers in the US.
...Carmakers worry it will be impossible to attain the targets for carbon dioxide emissions that Brussels intends because of the economic difficulties. “We are on our knees at the moment, so if they want us to invest billions of euros, the Commission has to help us out,” one European car executive said.
Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Renault, said before the Acea agreement he hoped Europe would follow the US. “Other governments should take inspiration from this. Why only in the US? The European Commission should perhaps do the same.”
On top of the coming push for greater reductions in GHG emissions, sales of personal cars in Europe have been decreasing. ACEA figures through September show that demand for new cars in Europe decreased by 7.3% in July and 15.7% in August, reflecting the general deterioration in consumer confidence and the effect of continuing high fuel prices. Over the first eight months of the year, new car registrations declined by 3.9% in Europe.
New registrations fell by 4.4% in Western Europe, with a decrease in Spain (-21.1%), Italy (-12.0%) and the UK (-3.8%) overshadowing growth in France (+2.9%) and Germany (+1.7%). Registrations were up 1.8% in the new EU member states, reflecting growth in Poland (+9.1%) and the Czech Republic (+8.2%) while Hungary (-4.9%) and Romania (-3.5%) were on a downward trend.
At a GM press conference at the Paris Motor Show, GM Europe President Carl-Peter Forster appealed to European politicians to help restore consumer confidence in the markets. He also called for clear, European-wide environmental laws. (GM was the fourth-largest seller of vehicles in Europe through August. Volkswagen Group was first, followed by PSA and Ford.)
Foster attributed the decline in European sales to three main factors: tough market conditions, unfavorable currency rates; and high commodity prices for metals and oils.
...for any of us to succeed, we must have customers who are willing and able to purchase new automobiles. Frankly, until consumer confidence returns, the automobile market cannot regain its momentum...We know there is pent-up demand for our Opel products. And we have local initiatives in place to spur cash sales. But our efforts are being stifled by a serious cash shortage.
...we also need help from political leaders to turn the situation around. At the EU level, and within the political leadership of individual countries, action must be taken to stimulate the economy, relieve the credit crunch and restore consumer confidence. Only then will consumers have the means—and the confidence—to invest in a new automobile.
Another uncertainty that is undermining consumer confidence and purchase intentions is the lack of clarity on CO2 policy. Stated plainly, we need action on a reasonable, results-focused, pan-European CO2 policy. Now.
...for any policy to be successful, it must enable the design and manufacture of cars that are both desirable and affordable. This is the only way we will achieve the near-term volume sales required to replace the older, high-emission vehicles currently on our roadways. Let me state this again. If the CO2 policy slows or even kills demand for new vehicles, the policy actions will have failed completely by leaving the older, higher-polluting cars on the road.
If we consider CO2 policies from this practical, results-focused perspective, it becomes clear that a successful CO2 strategy will be one that is viable for manufacturers proportional with other sectors and supported by the necessary fuel, infrastructure and taxation policies.—Carl-Peter Forster
Forster called for three main policies:
A “reasonable”, phased-in compliance schedule. (The European Parliament Environment Committee rejected a phased-in schedule in its vote in September. Earlier post.)
Policies to stimulate the early commercialization of breakthrough technologies, such as extended-range electric vehicles. GM suggests that the incentives come in the form of “super-credits” in which vehicles rated under 50 g/km count five times when calculating the manufacturer’s CO2 compliance rating.
A comprehensive plan to quickly expand the availability of biofuels.