Friday, May 2, 2008

Chrysler execs see market sliding further

Christine Tierney / The Detroit News

Chrysler LLC Chairman Bob Nardelli said the automaker is not expecting the U.S. auto market to rebound quickly from its weak levels.

"We don't see anything right now that would suggest that this thing is going to return quickly," he said in an interview with The Detroit News. "We don't really see a second-half recovery," said Nardelli, who is also CEO of the privately held Auburn Hills automaker.

Last November, when Chrysler said it expected sales to drop this year to 15.5 million cars and trucks, its forecast was among the most pessimistic. But many automakers have lowered their forecasts after the selling pace slumped to an annualized rate of 15.2 million units in the first quarter. Last year, 16.1 million cars and trucks were sold.

"We don't see a V recovery, we don't see a W recovery," Nardelli said referencing economic recovery patterns. "We use the term more of a kind of bathtub curve, where we slid down and probably (are) relatively flat. We're not in a position to call 2009 yet."

Chrysler's sales have fallen 15.5 percent in the first three months of the year. They were down again in April, due in large part to lower fleet sales, said Chrysler Vice Chairman and President Jim Press. That was intentional, he said. Sales to fleets tend to be less profitable than retail sales through dealers.

"We think we're properly-sized for 2008," Nardelli said, but added that the automaker will adjust its restructuring plan if it needs to. Chrysler is making progress toward its goal of achieving profitability and is on track to deliver a positive cash flow, he said.

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