* U.S. share of global auto sales seen rising
* Sales to grow 4.2 pct in U.S., 2.6 pct globally -LMC
* Some emerging-market growth slowing
* Detroit auto show opens to media on Monday
By Laurence Frost and Ben Klayman
DETROIT, Jan 11 The U.S. car market's rebound
may be slowing - but it still looks like the best bet to many of
the global industry's top brass as they converge on Detroit for
the 2013 auto show.
With Europe in a protracted meltdown and some emerging
markets flagging, the United States will increase its share of
world auto sales this year even as its economy cools, analysts
and executives predicted ahead of Monday's media opening.
American light vehicle sales are expected to rise 4 to 7
percent with prices remaining strong, according to most
estimates. That would outpace the 2.6 percent global expansion
forecast by consulting firm LMC Automotive.
That is an alluring prospect for European brands fleeing the
carnage at home and Japanese automakers hurt by a politically
driven consumer backlash in China - where growth and pricing are
less predictable for everyone.
"Even if China overtook the U.S. as our biggest-volume
market, the U.S. is and will remain our second-most important
market after Germany," Porsche CEO Matthias Mueller said.
The Volkswagen-owned sports car maker thinks
Europe would be "lucky" to see a recovery before 2015, Mueller
said in an interview. "The situation is as critical as ever."
The North American International Auto Show, better known as
the Detroit auto show, opens to the public on Jan. 19.
Among new vehicles to be unveiled by European carmakers at
this year's event are the SQ5 high-performance crossover from
VW's Audi brand, BMW's M6 Gran Coupe and the
redesigned Maserati Quattroporte.
The European market, already near a 20-year low, will shrink
another 1.7 percent this year to 17.8 million light vehicles,
LMC predicts, while the United States grows 4.2 percent to 15.1
By comparison, U.S. auto sales averaged nearly 17 million
vehicles a year in the decade prior to 2008 when the recession
cast a pall.
Although rising more sedately than last year's 13.4 percent
surge, projected U.S. deliveries will account for 18.2 percent
of the 82.7 million global total, compared with 17.9 percent in
"Right now, the U.S. is the healthiest auto market in the
world," said John Casesa, senior managing director with
Sales growth will be close to zero in Brazil and will slow
to 3.4 percent in Russia, according to the same forecasts, while
China's expansion accelerates to 10.2 percent from 5.9 percent.
But with Chinese manufacturing capacity for 1.5 million
additional vehicles coming on stream, some analysts warn that
pricing and profitability could suffer this year.
Balancing China's enormous growth potential, "a certain
amount of unsteadiness is a factor," Porsche's Mueller said.
Japanese automakers are still smarting in China, where
public outrage over a territorial dispute has translated into
more than 100,000 lost sales for Toyota Motor Corp and
Nissan Motor Co Ltd since September.
That can only increase their appetite in the United States
- where car sales by Asian and European brands both averaged 22
percent growth, compared with a 12 percent gain for domestic
The yen's recent decline against the dollar will also give
Japanese imports more edge, General Motors Co Chief
Executive Dan Akerson acknowledged.
"People are going to be very competitive in this market,"
Akerson told reporters on Wednesday. "This is the market with
the best margins."
While GM lost ground last year, it has broadly "held the
line" since emerging from bankruptcy in 2009 and will soon
benefit from the renewal of its aging lineup, Akerson said.
New pickup trucks being shown next week by Ford and
GM's Chevrolet and GMC may help the incumbents fight back.
Ford is also cautiously optimistic about 2013, the company's
chief economist said this week.
A coming payroll tax hike may weigh on sentiment, Ellen
Hughes-Cromwick said, but signs of a housing market rebound and
progress in President Barack Obama's fiscal policy standoff with
Congress are "favorable developments."
While economic growth will likely slow to 1.6 percent from
last year's 2.2 percent, Citi analyst Itay Michaeli said, a glut
of aging vehicles on U.S. roads promises to unlock "pent-up
demand" for replacements in years to come.
"We may have only begun to see the U.S. sales recovery,"
The bullish outlook shows that American carmakers' drastic
job and factory cuts of 2009 are still paying off, said Michael
Tyndall of Barclays Capital.
"The U.S. took its medicine in the last crisis and capacity
has remained relatively tight, so pricing remains disciplined,"
the London-based analyst said.
"The operative word is growth - whereas Europe is going