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article imageGM and Ford's US boom absent in Europe

By Laure Fillon (AFP)     Jan 13, 2014 in Technology

They may have rebounded at home in the United States, but US automakers General Motors and Ford are losing ground in the troubled but strategic European market.

In the world's top two auto markets, sales jumped 11 percent in the United States last year, and GM and Ford scored strong performances in China. But Europe remains a black hole.

GM Europe affiliate Opel/Vauxhall saw its market share drop from nine percent to 6.7 percent between 2005 and 2013, and from 8.3 percent to 7.4 percent for Ford, according to Ernst & Young analyst Jean-Francois Belorgey.

Both companies suffered losses last year in old Europe, and have yet to reveal the figures.

They have been in the red for years and GM's losses alone hover around $18 billion since 1999, according Germany's CAM institute director Stefan Bratzel.

As with other mainstream automakers, they suffer from a collapse in European sales since 2007.

The trend weighed down their accounts and forced them to shutter plants -- one in Germany for Opel, while Ford closed two in Britain and another in Belgium.

Nevertheless, "their situation is not the same," Bratzel stressed.

Ford hopes to balance its books in 2015, on the back of reduced costs and the launch of new models.

In December, the Detroit automaker unveiled its new Ford Mustang, which will be marketed for the first time in Europe, as well as two concept cars.

"Despite the difficult situation in the auto market, Ford continues to invest heavily in creating new models in Europe," said Stephen Odell, executive vice president and president of Europe, Middle East and Africa at Ford.

GM to pull Chevrolet out of Europe in 2016

The company also plans to boost its market share of sports utility vehicles, which it says should grow 22 percent from 2013 to 2018 in Europe, thanks to a new version of its Edge crossover.

"Ford is considered a serious competitor in this important sector," Belorgey said.

The company also reduces research and development, purchase and production costs by developing models that can be sold worldwide.

Opel, on the other hand, shares little with its parent company.

"It's difficult to be both part of a big group and be a semi-independent automaker," Belorgey said.

Under the partnership launched two years ago between GM and PSA Peugeot Citroen, Opel and the French firm had been set to share platforms such as the vehicle's body and thus cut costs but their tie-up has since been reduced.

So Opel is relying more heavily on its new models to improve its outlook, with 23 planned by 2016. It has already launched its Adam city car and Mokka compact SUV.

GM is also cleaning up house by removing Chevrolet, which only had one percent market share, in 2016 from its European brands.

"It will take time, energy and money," warned Bratzel, echoing other analysts who say Chevrolet's clients may not go to Opel.

And it remains to be seen how long GM's incoming CEO Mary Barra will support Opel despite its loses.

Improving European sales is among the company's "key priorities," she told AFP on the opening day of the Detroit Auto Show. "We have a very solid team at Opel."

The slow recovery of the European auto market and their new models should nonetheless allow both GM and Ford to regain ground, analysts say.

And they have two assets: "Regaining a foothold in their home market, with good margins, and China," said Yann Lacroix of global credit insurance firm Euler Hermes.

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