Two key European auto industry chiefs have predicted a tough 2010 lies ahead. Ford of Europe chief executive officer John Fleming said he expected sales to fall by as much as 2m units as countries end scrappage incentive programmes while General Motors' European chief Nick Reilly thought industry-wide sales in western Europe would fall by up to 14% for the same reason.

Sales in 19 of Europe's largest countries ended 2009 at 15.7m new cars and trucks but Fleming said at the Detroit show this could drop this year to 13.5m-14.5m.

He said scrappage schemes helped "pull ahead" sales into 2009 as people rushed to benefit.

Fleming also pointed to high unemployment and inaccessible consumer credit in many European countries.

He added: "The underlying economy is quite flat. Unemployment is still high, housing is still a problem. There is some confidence but it has to start translating into some real economic recovery before we see a strong recovery in the auto industry."

Reilly's even more pessimistic forecast was that deliveries would be around 13m to 13.5m vehicles.

He said: "I don't think it's going to be a good year. Sales in western Europe probably will remain below levels of 2008 for three years."

A number of European carmakers, including PSA Peugeot Citroen, have said the region's market won't recover in 2010 as incentives expire.

See also: EUROPE: W. Europe car sales set to slide