Akerson 'optimistic' about Opel's future

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DETROIT -- General Motors' departing CEO Dan Akerson said he is "optimistic" about the automaker's struggling European brand, Opel.

Opel's market share rose in Europe for the first time in 14 years in 2013, Akerson said during a question-and-answer session at the Automotive News World Congress on Wednesday.

GM President Dan Amman told the Congress that Opel was in its best shape in a long time, but Europe remains a "very, very fragile" economy. Ammann described 2014 as a "transition year" for GM's European operations.

Opel expects a modest increase in sales volume and market share this year. The brand will introduce a redesigned Corsa subcompact late in the year. A redesigned Astra compact is expected to follow in early 2015, along with new families of gasoline and diesel engines.

Vehicle sales at Opel and its UK sister brand Vauxhall fell 1.4 percent to 781,177 in western Europe in 2013 in a market down 2 percent, according to industry association ACEA, giving the unit a 6.8 percent market share, up a percentage point on the year before. In the wider 30-country EU and EFTA market, Opel/Vauxhall's share was stable at 6.7 percent with vehicle sales falling 1.5 percent.

Breakeven target

GM continues to target ending its losses in Europe by mid-decade.The new launches will help to drive GM's European operations back to break-even, Chuck Stevens, GM's chief financial officer, said at a Deutsche Bank auto analyst conference on Wednesday.

Ammann, Stevens predecessor as GM's top financial executive, told the conference that modest growth in the United States and China this year would help the company fund about $1.1 billion in restructuring costs in other harder-hit regions, including Europe and Australia.

He said the company expects to "modestly" improve profit in 2014 with earnings rising in the Americas while being down in Europe and its international operations.

Much of the company's $1.1 billion in expected restructuring costs for this year will be for closing its Bochum factory in Germany and pulling the Chevrolet brand from the region.

"The main theme here for 2014 is that we are taking advantage of the strength in North America and in China to fund restructuring activity elsewhere," Ammann told the Deutsche Bank conference.

GM also cited foreign-exchange headwinds in Brazil and Russia. The Brazilian real fell 14 percent against the U.S. dollar in the past 12 months, while the Russian ruble dropped more than 9 percent against the greenback, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this report

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