12 Jan 2009

Car giants put on brave face despite bleak outlook

12:16 pm on 12 January 2009

Automakers put on a brave face at the world's biggest auto show in Detroit on Sunday, with the sales outlook bleak for the coming year and car giants struggling for survival despite massive government aid.

US auto sales fell 18% in 2008 from the previous year to about 13.2 million vehicles, battered by a spreading credit crunch, US recession and plummeting consumer confidence.

Most automakers expect sales to decline even more this year.

Ford Motor Company expects US auto sales at 12.5 million or so at best. General Motors put the sales range lower, at between about 10.5 million and 12 million vehicles.

Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co Ltd all updated plans to offer all-electric or improved hybrids in the next few years.

Ford determined not to use credit line

Ford said it intends to forge ahead and not use a line of credit it has requested from the United States government, despite an ongoing slump in auto sales.

"The game plan is to keep going on our own and to try as hard as we can to not do that," executive chairman Bill Ford said in Detroit.

"Right now as we see it we're comfortable, but we have asked for a line of credit just in case the world implodes as we know it," he said.

The other two US car giants, General Motors and Chrysler, have received loans from the government to help them survive through the worst US auto sales in decades as the world's largest economy languishes in recession.

Ford, the No. 2 automaker in the US, has insisted that it has sufficient cash to keep going on its own and has not taken a government loan.

Ford has been seen by analysts as better placed to weather the latest economic storm because it borrowed more than $US23 billion in 2006 to fund its turnaround - loans that were secured against most of the comapny's assets.

Mr Ford, the great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford, said government incentives should be considered for American consumers to buy hybrid vehicles as gas prices have fallen well below the highs reached in July 2008, and said that "right now, the entire economy needs help."

Mr Ford expected fuel prices will rise as the US economy recovers.