The chief executive of Adam Opel AG, the struggling German unit of General Motors, said on Thursday that the company would break even by the fourth quarter of this year but declined to offer a forecast for 2004, Associated Press (AP) reported.

Opel, which in 2001 embarked on a turnaround plan aimed at returning to profit this year, ran up a 345 million euro loss in 2002 as sales shrank and restructuring costs ate into earnings, AP noted.

On Thursday, chief executive Carl-Peter Forster reiterated his prediction of a break-even in the last three months of this year, but cautioned that “customer confidence has not yet returned”, AP said.

“There are no predictions for 2004,” he reportedly said. “I would like to be optimistic, but it’s not possible to say at this point.”

AP noted that Forster, a former top executive at BMW, was given the task of turning around Opel in April 2001 after his predecessor Robert Hendry resigned amid mounting losses.

Opel’s operating earnings – often looked at by motor industry analysts as a measure of the health of the company’s business – improved to a loss of 227 million euro in 2002 from 674 million the previous year, AP added.