European car sales will decline, but not as much as previously expected, Dudenhoeffer says(Photo: Arjen Bongard)

BOCHUM, Germany -- The outlook for the European auto market isn't as bleak as it was only a few months ago, but global growth will be generated elsewhere, according to the latest forecast from Germany's CAR research institute.

"Asia and the US will drive the global market this year," said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, who heads the German automotive institute, which is affiliated with the University of Duisburg-Essen.

Dudenhoeffer expects the global market to grow 2.1 pc to 63.08 million units this year from 61.79 million units in 2011. The outlook is slightly more positive than CAR forecasts made just a few months ago.

That is in part because the North American market "has moved up more strongly" than CAR had thought earlier, Dudenhoeffer said. The institute expects the market to increase to 16.08 million units this year from 15.27 million units a year earlier.

The expected decline in the European market will also be less pronounced than originally predicted. Dudenhoeffer projects a drop of 600,000 units this year to 12.95 million from 13.57 last year. The industry expert said commercial banks' large Greek debt writedowns and the likelihood of a successful European rescue operation for the country are helping to improve prospects for car sales.

Volume growth, however, will have to come from other major markets such as China, which is set to rise 5.0 pc this year to 13.59 million units.

Dudenhoeffer was speaking to reporters at the annual CAR-Symposium, an industry conference, which this year featured keynote speeches from BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer and PSA/Peugeot-Citroen CEO Philippe Varin.

Reithofer said BMW's outlook for the global vehicle market is more positive than Dudenhoeffer's. BMW expects global unit sales growth of around 4 pc.

Reithofer said he expects "stagnation" in Europe, but he cited growth potential for BMW in the US, Asia South America, Turkey, Korea and South Africa.

-Arjen Bongard