STUTTGART (dpa-AFX) - According to an analysis, German car manufacturers suffered a setback in international comparison at the start of the year. "With a 1.7 percent drop in sales and a quarter drop in profits, the three German car manufacturers performed significantly worse overall than the majority of their competitors," the auditing and consulting firm EY reported on Wednesday.

Together, Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz achieved a turnover of around 148 billion euros. This was still the second-highest figure in a first quarter since the study was compiled. For the analysis, EY evaluated the key financial figures of the 16 largest car manufacturers worldwide. The survey has been conducted since 2011.

Measured against the same period last year, the turnover of all groups rose by 3.9 percent to around 493 billion euros in the first quarter. Earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) amounted to around 33.8 billion euros - 0.7 percent higher than a year earlier. With a profit increase of around 87 percent and sales growth of 17 percent, car manufacturers from Japan were particularly strong: This was due to the continuing fall in the value of the yen, which makes Japanese products cheaper abroad and leads to exchange rate gains.

Kia is the most profitable car manufacturer at the beginning of the year

Profitability fell slightly: the average EBIT margin, which expresses the ratio of operating profit to sales, was 7.4 percent. At 13.1 percent, Kia was the most profitable car manufacturer. The South Koreans lead the rankings ahead of BMW (11.1 percent) and Mercedes (10.8 percent). The latter was still the most profitable group in 2023 as a whole, ahead of Stellantis. The Opel parent company did not disclose any profit figures for the first year. The margin of e-car manufacturer Tesla fell from 11.4% to 5.5% compared to the previous year.

According to EY market observer Constantin Gall, the headwind for the automotive industry is increasing. "In the first quarter, new car sales of the top car manufacturers declined slightly and demand is nowhere near pre-pandemic levels," he said. From January to March, manufacturers sold around 15.5 million cars, around three million fewer vehicles than in the first quarter of 2019.

EY expert: No quick recovery in sight

According to Gall, a quick recovery is currently not in sight: The economy is weakening, geopolitical tensions and wars are causing great uncertainty in many regions. "In addition, the unclear development of e-mobility is slowing things down: sales of electric cars are disappointing in both Europe and the USA," he said. The question of which technologies will prevail appears to be relatively open again, meaning that the industry will have to invest in several types of drive in parallel.

In addition, the Chinese car market is developing in a difficult way, at least for Western manufacturers. "Domestic suppliers are gaining market share, especially in the electric segment. The cut-throat competition is brutal," said Gall. While car manufacturers increased their car sales in Europe by three percent and in the USA by almost six percent, they recorded a drop of two percent in China. Nevertheless, German manufacturers recorded a slight increase in China. In the first quarter, the country accounted for 33.2 percent of their global new car sales./jwe/DP/zb