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By William Boston
BERLIN -- Volkswagen AG warned Wednesday that the downturn in the global car market was worsening, but maintained its outlook for profit and revenue as the world's biggest auto maker by sales continued to sell more higher-priced sport-utility vehicles.
Volkswagen's gloomy outlook comes amid a spate of profit revisions and downbeat assessments of the industry by leading manufacturers such as General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Renault SA, who cited trade conflicts, Brexit and economic slowdown in China, the U.S. and Europe. Auto sales world-wide are expected to decline 4% this year, after a 0.5% decline in 2018.
Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on manufacturers to achieve scale, cut costs and generate more cash to finance investment in electric vehicles and new self-driving technology.
Underscoring this, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and PSA Group, maker of Peugeot and Citroën cars, confirmed Wednesday they were in talks to merge to create a trans-Atlantic heavyweight better able to absorb the rising costs of industry transformation.
Volkswagen, which boasts a host of automotive brands from passenger cars and luxury sports cars to vans and long-haul tractor-trailer trucks, is reaping the rewards of a major overhaul of its business that began in the wake of its 2015 diesel-emissions cheating scandal.
"The best days of the party are over, but I wouldn't want to drown in worries about recession," Volkswagen Chief Finance Officer Frank Witter said.
Despite falling deliveries of new vehicles, Volkswagen's net income in the three months to the end of September rose 42% to EUR3.8 billion ($4.2 billion), as revenue rose 11% to EUR61.4 billion.
It attributed the rise in sales and earnings to cost cuts and an increase in the share of higher-price SUVs in its product mix. Overall, new car sales were down 1.7% in the first nine months of the year because of falling sales in Europe and China.
Mr. Witter said the company was improving its finances, pointing to EUR8.6 billion in cash flow in the first nine months, up from EUR3.5 billion the year before, as the ratio of capital expenditure to revenue remained steady at around 5%.
Volkswagen shares opened about 2% higher on the earnings, before losing steam and trading around 0.6% higher in Frankfurt.
As industry consolidation accelerates, a battle between financially powerful manufacturers with global scale could decide the winners and losers in the race to dominate the sector.
Big players such as Volkswagen, Toyota Motor Corp. and GM have long been seen as favorites, with the scale and financial firepower to shoulder the costs of change. But a merger of Peugeot and Fiat Chrysler would create a $50 billion giant with solid footing in the U.S. and Europe and the potential to grow in China.
Smaller players, such as the German luxury brands Daimler AG and BMW AG, are struggling to maintain profits. Daimler reported higher overall earnings last week, but its flagship Mercedes-Benz luxury car division is struggling, with a 1% decline in sales to 1.74 million vehicles in the first nine months of this year and a sharp drop in its return on sales.
Renault, which is grappling with upheaval in its alliance with Japan's second-largest auto maker, Nissan Motor Co., recently booted its chief executive and reported last week that third-quarter revenue fell 1.6% to EUR11.3 billion and that vehicle unit sales were down more than 4%.
GM and Ford are also struggling. The former lowered its profit outlook this week, saying the 40-day United Auto Workers strike nearly wiped out its free cash flow for the year and cost it nearly $3 billion in lost earnings.
Ford, in the midst of a global reorganization, slashed its profit outlook for 2019 in the face of tougher competition in the U.S.
Write to William Boston at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 30, 2019 05:31 ET (09:31 GMT)
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