Europe's recovering car market should boost the 2014 outlook for the world's biggest auto parts suppliers, but slow economic growth has caused component makers to refrain from raising their forecasts.
Western European new-car sales rose about 7 percent during the first quarter, confirming that Europe is starting to recover from a six-year slump. Most forecasters are predicting a 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent rise in European car sales for the full year. But suppliers such as Robert Bosch, TRW Automotive, Autoliv, Continental and Faurecia so far are sticking with their previous forecasts that vehicle production in the region will grow 1 percent to 2 percent this year.
"We do expect to grow in the first quarter in Europe," Continental Chief Financial Officer Wolfgang Schaefer said in a phone interview. "What we are saying is that we’re still on the same runway as we were in the second half of last year. We see a sideways situation in Europe." Continental said in a presentation on April 3 it sees passenger car and light truck production in Europe rising just 1 percent this year. The supplier predicts its total global sales will grow to 35 billion euros in 2014 from 33.3 billion euros last year.
Bosch also expects higher overall revenue this year, boosted by a 3 percent increase in global auto production. The diversified company reported total sales of 46.4 billion euros last year. Its automotive division accounted for 66 percent of that total.
Some reasons that suppliers have remained reluctant to change their forecasts include weak economic growth in southern Europe and a European car park that is still quite young, Continental’s Schaefer said. Caution among suppliers about Europe’s recovery echoes the comments made by auto executives in recent interviews. European new-car registrations are up, but still languishing at near 20-year lows. The economy for the 28-member European Union is forecast to grow 1.5 percent this year, compared with 2.6 percent in the United States. But growth in Italy, for example, may not even reach 1 percent this year.
Debt rating agency Moody’s said on March 26 that a recovery in European domestic demand, combined with continued emerging market growth, should boost automotive part suppliers’ prospects. “We maintain our stable outlook for European auto parts suppliers, reflecting our expectation of a continuing slow recovery in the European auto market,” Moody’s Vice President and Senior Analyst Oliver Gianni said in a statement. Moody’s forecasts a 2 percent increase in European car sales this year.
The upturn affects different suppliers in different ways making it hard to generalize, said Lars Stolz, a Munich-based partner at consultancy Oliver Wyman, which advises suppliers and automakers. The world’s top 10 to 15 suppliers based on global sales are already geographically diversified, he said. Then there’s another group with a large exposure to Europe. Below them is a myriad of smaller players with a strong geographical focus. “The big suppliers are already migrating their global footprint out of Europe to other markets. This rise in Germany or in Europe is going to make a difference but not a huge difference,” he said. “The smaller ones who are very much Europe focused will benefit the most.”
Deutsche Bank automotive analyst Gaetan Toulemonde is forecasting European production to rise 3 percent this year, indicating that perhaps some suppliers could raise their targets as the year goes on. Suppliers are likely to be cautious until they see more signs that consumer sentiment in Europe is improving, Oliver Wyman’s Stolz said.