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File photo used for representational purpose. (Bloomberg)
File photo used for representational purpose. (Bloomberg)

Coronavirus: European auto industry prepares for the worst as sales plunge

  • Car makers across the globe have shuttered factories and showrooms to contain the spread of coronavirus.
  • With people housebound in major auto markets like France and Italy and non-essential purchases prohibited, consumers aren’t buying new vehicles.

The damage to the European car industry from the coronavirus pandemic is piling up, after French auto sales plunged in March and a major parts supplier scrapped its outlook.

French passenger car registrations dropped 72% compared with the previous year, according to a statement Wednesday from the CCFA trade group. Separately, Germany’s Continental AG withdrew financial guidance for the year and said more than 40% of its plants have shut.

“It is very likely that new car and trucks sales will have to take the biggest hit since 1945," Juergen Pieper, analyst at Bankhaus Metzler, said in an email.

Car makers from Volkswagen AG, PSA Group, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV to Renault SA have shuttered factories and showrooms after governments restricted public life to stem the spread of Covid-19. With people housebound in major auto markets like France and Italy and non-essential purchases prohibited, consumers aren’t buying new vehicles.

(Also read: Back to business: Car factories in China return to life, one vehicle at a time)

“April will also be very difficult because populations will remain confined in many countries," Jacques Aschenbroich, chief executive officer of French car-parts maker Valeo SA, said on BFM Business radio. “We must be prepared for a very, very difficult next few months."

Slashing Costs

Continental said about 30,000 employees, or half its local workforce, have been registered for state wage support and shorter working hours. In scrapping its outlook, the company followed a spectrum of firms across Europe who have said the outbreak makes it nearly impossible to predict revenue.

Valeo is slashing investment and costs as well as putting staff -- including development engineers -- on partial unemployment, Aschenbroich said.

“Most of our clients are slowing development of new vehicles so our teams are as well," the CEO said. “The turnaround will come, maybe later this month, but we just don’t know."

Swedish passenger car registrations fell 8.6% in March, industry organization BIL Sweden said. The drop wasn’t related to the pandemic as the cars were mostly ordered several months earlier.

“We can expect a coronavirus effect on new registrations in the coming months," said Mattias Bergman, head of BIL Sweden.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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