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Spirits lift as Frankfurt blooms

2013-09-11 09:40

BETTER DAYS IN SIGHT? The car sales slump could come to an end say experts, as spirits are high at the 2013 Frankfurt auto show. Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche stands beside a Mercedes S-Class Coupe concept during the event. Image: AP

It's not all gloom and gloom in global car sales and thanks to the 2013 Frankfurt motor show it seems spirits, and sales, are lifting.

FRANKFURT, Germany - The world's auto manufacturers are moving on from turbulent times - without help from Europe's lagging car markets.

Recovering auto sales in the US and continuing strength in China have helped lighten the mood at the 2013 Frankfurt auto show where automakers have set out to wow potential customers with electric and hybrid-drive vehicles and the latest technology.

Latest sales figures show the key US market is on pace for 16-million in sales in 2013, finally reaching the 2007 level from before the financial crisis and recession, but the only good news out of the show's home market, Europe, is that sales appear to be halting their steep decline.


Executives and analysts say no significant rebound is expected in 2013 or 2014. Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said he anticipated some very small growth - between one to two percent - for the next few years: "We're pretty confident that the slope is ending. We're not sure that the recovery is here."

Renault and other mass-market automakers have especially struggled during Europe's decline but Ghosn said they were buoyed by emerging markets and would continue to be.

In 2012 new car registrations in the European Union were at their lowest since 1995 - about 12-million as against 15.6-million in 2007. The Centre for Automotive Research at the University of Essen-Duisburg estimates only 11.8-million for 2013, and a very slight recovery in 2014.

Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, professor of automotive economics at the university, said: "In the car industry we have two worlds, on the one hand Europe which is a catastrophe, and the rest of the world where it looks much better."

Germany's Daimler, VW and BMW are all making money thanks to sales outside Europe and are showing off new products with swagger and glitz at their home auto show.


Major themes at Frankfurt include electric and hybrid autos, often in higher performance and price categories, and new small SUV's, an increasingly popular category in Europe. Another frequent topic is autonomous driving - still a long way off due to legal and technical reasons but increasingly possible by equipping cars with cameras and computers.

At BMW's gigantic hall its new i3 electric compacts glided silently around an elevated figure-eight track. The chief executive of crosstown rival Daimler, Dieter Zetsche, showed off his Mercedes brand's self-drive technology by riding into another exhibit hall in the back seat of a driverless car.

The car had made an autonomous cruise through several German towns to show off the new systems. Drivers who buy the new Mercedes S-Class will find that it forces them to put their hands back on the wheel after a few seconds. The company also unveiled a hybrid version of the S-Class.

Volkswagen showed off four new cars using electric propulsion: electric versions of its Up! and Golf compacts, and an Audi A3 and Porsche Panamera using hybrid drive, which combines electric motors and internal combustion engine to reduce emissions.


One target of the show's marketing effort is western Europe's young people, many of whom have turned away from their parents' SUV's toward a mix of bicycles, car-sharing and public transport. With hybrids and electrics only 0.2% of the market, analysts say that the prospects for sales and profits remain uncertain. They can help companies meet government requirements for lower average emissions - and position them to be ready if such vehicles take off.

Zetsche of Mercedes added that the only way to perfect the technology is to actually make cars on an industrial scale and sell them. Zetsche told reporters: "We don't expect that this will have any kind of explosive development, but we will see a long phase of steady, slow substitution of conventional power trends by alternative ones."

Stay with Wheels24 for the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show.

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