Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, now a Fiat strategy consultant, has told Bloomberg Television that European carmakers are facing a “tough time.”

“The automotive business is tough in Europe right now,” Welch said in the interview yesterday.

Bloomberg News said his claim was supported by European Automobile Manufacturers Association data showing West European fourth-quarter new commercial-vehicle sales fell 3.1 percent from a year ago because a slowing economy cut demand for movement of goods.

Bloomberg said that Fiat, the sixth-largest maker of cars and trucks, announced in December that it has lost 800 million euros ($US693 million) in 2001 as it cut jobs and closed factories at the unit.

To counter that, Fiat chairman Paolo Fresco and CEO Paolo Cantarella “have their hands on exactly what they have to do,” Welch told Bloomberg Television.

“Fiat has an arrangement with General Motors and that arrangement will evolve over time,” Welch said in the interview.

Bloomberg said that Fiat hired Welch as a consultant on strategy as it tries to sell assets and cut rising debt. He has been a Fiat board member for more than a year and retired from GE last September, the news agency added.