Carmakers Flag Difficult Year on Costs, Muted EV Demand

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In a positive development, BMW saw group EV sales rise 28% in the first quarter.

Automakers across Europe and Asia are warning of a challenging year as rising costs and waning demand for electric vehicles weigh on profits.

Mercedes-Benz Group AG on Wednesday said it will sell combustion-engine cars longer than expected amid disappointing EV sales. Toyota Motor Corp., which sees operating income slumping by a fifth this fiscal year, is relying on hybrids to counter lower output. BMW AG, even as it’s doing better on EVs, flagged problems including higher manufacturing expenses.

Persistent inflation, muted economic growth in much of Europe and a protracted recovery in China — where excessive EV discounting is hurting manufacturers — are adding to the industry’s headaches.

“The price war in China is getting tougher everyday,” Toyota Chief Financial Officer Yoichi Miyazaki said. “We’ll have to continue enduring for several years until we have more battery EVs to offer.”

BMW AG saw a fall in the first quarter after rising manufacturing costs weighed on profitability and Toyota Motor Corp. gave a weak profit outlook as recent scandals forced it to trim production. Bloomberg’s Craig Trudell reports.Source: Bloomberg

Mercedes in April reported an earnings drop on model changeovers and soft EV demand, with Volkswagen AG and Stellantis NV also flagging slow starts to the year. 

To be sure, most major auto-industry companies confirmed their full-year guidances, with German parts maker Continental AG on Wednesday saying it expects earnings to improve in the second half due to price increases and cost cutting. BMW’s EV sales jumped 28% after the German brand introduced a range of battery-powered models that look very similar to its comparable gasoline models.


But most carmakers are feeling the pain of the EV slowdown after governments ended lucrative subsidies for the technology, making the already more expensive EVs even less attractive. Gaps in charging infrastructure also continue to turn off potential buyers.

“Some of our customers have delayed product launches in general, also in the new EV arena,” Continental CFO Katja Garcia Vila told Bloomberg in an interview by phone. “That caused delays in the ramp up of our production.”

Mercedes Chief Executive Officer Ola Källenius told shareholders on Wednesday that the maker of the S-Class sedan will continue to make combustion-engine and hybrid vehicles “well into the 2030s” if demand is there.

Larger vehicles with combustion engines still command the biggest profits, with Ferrari NV and Porsche AG among those boasting the highest returns. And with China not phasing out sales of new combustion-engines until 2060, luxury-car makers still see potential for their legacy products in the world’s biggest auto market.

While the shift to EVs has slowed somewhat due to the demand issues, carmakers aren’t making u-turns. 

Toyota said it’s committed to EVs in the long term, and that it will invest an additional ¥500 billion ($3.2 billion) in plans to decarbonize and develop next-generation software. 

Ferrari, which on Tuesday reported underwhelming earnings and failed to raise its outlook, is building a factory in Italy to make hybrid and electric cars that will be ready next month. Both BMW and Mercedes plan to introduce a new generation of EVs around mid-decade.

(Updates with new information throughout)

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

By Wilfried Eckl-Dorna , Nicholas Takahashi


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