Fresh from the gloomy prognostications of the Geneva Motor Show, European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) president Carlos Ghosn had some of his own on Wednesday saying European car output will fall by 25% this year.


Speaking after talks in Brussels with European Commission president José Manuel Barroso and European Union (EU) industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen, he told a press conference: “This forecast is not the same as the one I gave last week. Last week it was predicted to be 15%.”


Some commentators believe, however, production could plunge by 30% by the year-end to 8.5m vehicles. ACEA’s estimations will be updated on a monthly basis.


It was a mark of Commission concern that Barroso himself participated, marking the first time the men had met. Originally Ghosn was scheduled only to meet Verheugen, who is in charge of industry policy and transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot.


Last month the Commission produced a paper on the European industry, which for the most part was welcomed by ACEA members. Any persisting differences between the industry and EU institutions concerned speed rather than principle.


EU officials later used the formulaic description of “good and constructive” talks but they did demonstrate a shared alarm between the industry and the Commission. Half a million jobs have already been lost and millions more in production and the supply chain are under threat.


Renault CEO Ghosn’s message was that piecemeal national palliatives would not be enough even in the short term. European Investment Bank (EIB) loans were a welcome prospect but they are confined to projects and are not for general support, he noted.


He stressed the industry was not seeking EU subsidies despite its urgent need for an EUR40bn injection. “It needs to have it soon. Five years from now it will be too late,” Ghosn added.


“We would like the EU to take a more proactive stance, however, I would like to see more Brussels-inspired coordination of national support measures,” he stressed, looking at the patchwork of national bailout plans emerging from EU capitals.


He made a particular plea that the Commission postpones any new and costly regulation. The industry is too fragile to assume any more burdens in the current crisis, he said.


On the environment Ghosn underlined his belief that no automaker would slow down the development of green cars but only on condition that finance is forthcoming: “Our biggest problem at the moment is a lack of finances and credit.”


David Howarth