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New Models, Optimism at Geneva Car Show

After taking a battering in last year's worldwide economic slump, the auto industry is responding aggressively with newer models and doing its best to ignore the threat of war.


The auto industry wants to take steps out of their worldwide slump

Carmakers at this year's Geneva International Motor Show showed that they won't take the bad year behind them lying down.

Despite the prognosis of another bad sales year and the looming threat of war against Iraq, European car companies are aggressively introducing new models and concept cars at the 73-year-old show. German companies including Opel, Volkswagen and Audi are all introducing new models or new generations of successful cars.

"Of course, we, like everyone else, are concerned about the insecurity in the world and the worldwide economy at the moment," said Jürgen Hubbert of Mercedes-Benz. "But that is no reason to have doubts, only reason to get active."

German companies optimistic

The Chrysler Group of DaimlerChrysler contributed €3 billion ($3.284 billion) in profits to the German-American corporation's 2002 sales. Mercedes' orders in the United States in February grew 8 percent, even as car-buying among American consumers sank. Bavarian carmaker BMW fared even better, increasing February orders by 25 percent.

Opel Signum auf dem 73. Automobilsalon Genf

The new model ' Signum' of German carmaker Opel is shown during the press days at the 73rd Geneva International Motor Show, Tuesday, March 4, 2003, in Geneva, Switzerland. The Motor Show will open its gates to the public from 6 to 16 March, presenting over 900 brands with more than 70 world and european premieres. (AP Photo/Keystone, Sandro Campardo)

The optimism seems to be contagious throughout the German auto industry. Opel, which has suffered one of the worst crises in its 104-year history in recent years -- with a record loss of €604 million in 2001 -- seems to be making its way back. The latest Vectra, Astra and Omega models are all doing well, said Opel CEO Carl-Peter Forster. The company introduced two new models, including the sedan Signum (photo), at the show this week.

"What's pleasing is that with Opel's improving image and improving acceptance … the sale of our traditional cars is on the way back," said distribution manager Uhland Burkhart.

Experts expect downward trend

More than 700,000 visitors are expected at the newly refurbished Geneva Palexpo, where a new hall has been built adding 21,000 square meters (226,049 square feet) of show space. The polished, highbrow show, which runs from Thursday through March 16, is seen as a harbinger of things to come in the automotive industry during the coming year.

Europe's car companies for the most part reported losses in 2002, with overall sales going down 2.9 percent to 14.4 million cars. Industry experts don't expect any sort of a recovery in the foreseeable future.

"Despite more investment in attractive new models, the European auto industry will drive in reverse again in 2003," Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, at the University of Gelsenkirchen, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

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