Auto executives more downbeat than desperate at 2013 Frankfurt show

Wed Sep 11, 2013 2:56am EDT
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By Paul Ingrassia and Paul Lienert

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - At the last Frankfurt motor show in 2011, the big story was not the cars, but the euro zone crisis and specifically how the continent's car companies could survive.

This year, the crisis is waning but caution remains. As sales continue to lag, especially in Southern Europe, the most interesting new models are not sports or luxury cars, but family station wagons, the epitome of practicality.

The most troubled car companies, France's Peugeot SA (PEUP.PA: Quote) and Italy's Fiat SpA FIA.MI, have cut product-development spending so much that they have little new to display. But cutting-edge designs are also few and far between on the stands of even such market leaders as Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE: Quote).

As a barometer of Europe's economy, the show's atmosphere has improved in two years - from desperate to downbeat - while the attitudes of Europe's top auto executives reflect much of the market's ambivalence.

"Perhaps a little bit of optimism is justified," said Trevor Mann, Nissan Motor Co Ltd (7201.T: Quote) executive vice president. "But I think the recovery generally will be slow (and) we should not get over-enthusiastic."


Alfredo Altavilla, chief operating officer of Fiat's Europe, Middle East and African regions, added: "The real answer is that no one has any visibility beyond the quarter. The trend is stabilizing (but) it's too soon to say that it's picking up."

In the absence of CEO Sergio Marchionne, Altavilla was the senior Fiat official at Frankfurt, presiding over a low-key display that featured a seven-passenger derivative of the Fiat 500L MPV as the brand's chief new product. Even Fiat's pricy Ferrari marque, which unveiled the stunning LaFerrari hybrid sports car earlier this year at the Geneva show, could muster only a slightly more powerful variant of its aging 458 series to anchor its Frankfurt stand.   Continued...

The stand of Volkswagen is pictured during a media preview day at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) September 10, 2013. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski