* Renault trims global car market growth forecast
* Sees growth slightly below previous 2 pct estimate
* Cites weakness in Russia, Argentina, Turkey, Algeria
* Executives upbeat on European recovery, U.S. and China
(Adds more comments by executives, analyst, background, link to
By Laurence Frost
GENEVA, March 4 French carmaker Renault
has trimmed its growth forecast for the global market
this year as the industry becomes increasingly worried about
volatile emerging markets just when demand in Europe is starting
to pick up.
Renault's sales chief Jerome Stoll said at the Geneva auto
show on Tuesday the group now expects global vehicle sales to
rise by slightly less than the 2 percent previously forecast.
"While Europe is showing some signs of recovery, we are at
the same time seeing some headwinds from emerging markets," he
said, citing in particular weaker than expected demand in
Russia, Argentina, Turkey and Algeria.
After a six-year sales slump, Europe's car market is finally
showing signs of recovery as even the countries hardest hit by
the euro zone debt crisis move out of recession. Industry data
on Monday showed car sales in Germany, Italy and Spain rose last
month, although they dipped in France.
But some emerging markets such as Brazil and Russia have
seen a slowdown in demand, and executives are concerned the
latest bout of volatility sparked by Russia's intervention in
Ukraine could lead to a further weakening as some currencies
come under further pressure.
"Some countries have seen their currencies devalue by 20, 30
or 35 percent. That always has consequences ... very strong
consequences if one doesn't produce locally," Christian
Klingler, sales chief at Europe's biggest carmaker Volkswagen
(VW), told Reuters at the show late on Monday.
Until recently, Russia had been tipped to overtake Germany
to become Europe's biggest carmaker, drawing in investment from
Western manufacturers including General Motors, Ford
, Renault and Fiat.
But a slowing economy saw new car sales fall 5.5 percent
last year, bringing three years of double-digit percentage
growth to an end, and Russia's AEB auto association was
forecasting another decline of 1.6 percent this year, even
before the recent plunge in the rouble.
"We're a major trade partner of Russia and are looking at
the Ukraine and Russia with concern," said VW's chief executive,
Renault, which along with partner Nissan is one of
the biggest car sellers in Russia, also said it was following
events there closely. The pair build cars with OAO AvtoVAZ
and are taking control of the Russian carmaker this
However, Stoll said Renault was better positioned in the
event of a collapse of the rouble than many rivals operating in
the country because it sourced many parts locally.
Citi analysts estimate Russia accounted for about 8 percent
of Renault's worldwide sales last year and that the group's
exposure to the country was worth about 2.3 euros a share,
compared with its 88 euros target price for the stock.
Despite the concerns about some emerging markets, car
industry executives remain mostly optimistic, pointing to the
continued strength of demand in China, the world's biggest auto
market, and improvements elsewhere.
"We have seen the levelling out in western Europe over the
last year and the very first sign that it can become stronger
now," said Ralf Speth, the chief executive of Tata Motors'
luxury British carmaker Jaguar Land Rover.
"We're seeing the U.S. recovering more, and we still see a
very solid China," he added, while conceding uncertainty over
events in Ukraine made it hard to make predictions.
Renault's Stoll was also encouraged by the strength of
recovery in previously crisis-hit European countries such as
Italy, Portugal and Spain, and said the reduction to the group's
global growth forecast was just a minor adjustment.
"It's a question of tenths of a percentage point," he said.
Meanwhile Daimler's chief executive Dieter
Zetsche appeared to take a slightly more optimistic view,
forecasting 3 percent growth in the global passenger car market
(For a graphic on global vehicle sales by region and European
sales by top selling brands, click or paste into a browser the
following link: link.reuters.com/sar37v)
(Additional reporting by Gilles Guillaume, Andreas Cremer,
Edward Taylor and Agnieszka Flak; Writing by Mark Potter;
Editing by Jon Boyle and Greg Mahlich)