Strong euro squeezes Peugeot

Wall Street Journal - May 24, 2007
A turnaround plan unveiled by PSA Peugeot Citroen underscores the challenges faced by Europe's auto industry: High-growth markets are
located beyond the Continent's borders, but the strength of the euro against other leading currencies makes it difficult to use European plants to conquer overseas customers.
Peugeot, Europe's second-largest car maker by sales, said yesterday that it will slash costs, shed 4,800 jobs in France and speed up model launches to restore sagging profitability. At the same time, Peugeot said it will decide by the summer on building its first production facility in Russia to take advantage of a fast-expanding market.
"The situation is critical; our automobile division is very close to break-even, which is why it's so urgent to return to sales growth and improve profitability," Peugeot Chief Executive Christian Streiff told shareholders at the company's annual meeting.
Mr. Streiff added his voice to a chorus of angry European industry executives, saying that the strength of the euro against the dollar and the yen is a "terrible handicap" for European car makers. "It opens the door to competition, and has given Japanese manufacturers an absolutely phenomenal competitive advantage," he said.
Other European car makers, such as Volkswagen AG, and European plane maker Airbus, a unit of European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co., have said the euro's strength is forcing them to source more parts outside the 13 countries that share the euro, and sometimes to relocate production outside the euro area.
Peugeot's fortunes have ebbed in recent years as a weak product lineup and fierce competition from Asian manufacturers have caused its share of the European market to ebb to just more than 13% from a high of 15.5% in 2002. The turnaround program, dubbed CAP 2010, aims to regain that market share, Mr. Streiff said.
Peugeot's net profit slid to 176 million euros ($236.7 million) in 2006 from 1.03 billion euros a year earlier, while the operating-profit margin of its automobile unit fell to 0.6% from 2% in 2005.
In Paris, Peugeot shares fell 4.6% to 58.47 euros in a broadly higher market.
Mr. Streiff said the recovery plan aims to reduce the company's fixed costs by 30% by speeding up the development time for new models and generally tightening up operations not directly related to production.

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