Although Europe isn't quite ready to put its monuments up for sale yet, the continent's economy remains in shambles - and that's a truth major automaker executives couldn't hide from at last week's Paris Motor Show.
Chrysler and Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne told media gathered at the show that the market is a "disaster" that has "plunged off a precipice that doesn't seem to have bottomed out yet." Further, the hardly reserved executive predicted that future prospects are "anything but rosy."
Marchionne has long been a proponent of reducing Europe's assembly plant overcapacity, but unions that represent his and other automakers remain a major roadblock.
That's something that concerns Volkswagen's CFO, too: "It is unclear if all carmakers will survive without governmental help," Hans Dieter Poetsch said, according to Automotive News.
Poetsch said he was referring specifically to "carmakers in Southern Europe that produce small cars," a pot shot at Fiat.
Though the Paris show lacked the glitz and glamor it usually boasts, it wasn't quite the somber affair seen at the 2008 Los Angeles show, where Chrysler and General Motors were teetering on the verge of nonexistence. At that show, Chrysler asked its local dealers to foot the display bill and GM unveiled not a single new product.
Instead, the pain in Paris was better hidden behind simpler but still professional displays. The number of new car reveals was significantly reduced, but most major automakers had at least one or two things to show off. Mercedes-Benz, for example, displayed a half-million euro electrified version of its SLS AMG sports car but it didn't have a major mass market product to unveil. Fiat, meanwhile, took the wraps off of a larger version of its 500 minicar, but its Alfa Romeo brand's stand looked a little bare with just a few examples of two models on display.
Europe's dire situation extends beyond the auto show and into showrooms, executives are beginning to reveal.
Mazda's global sales chief said that discounts among all brands are heavy, although he did state that his automaker's decision to reduce inventory earlier this year has isolated it from the need to make heavy discounts.
"It was a bit painful to decide, but we took inventory down at the beginning of the year, so now we are managing quite well," global sales chief Masahiro Moro said.
Ford says that its dealers are buying up new car inventories on their own in a bid to artificially inflate sales numbers. The Michigan automaker's European market dealers are then listing the cars as pre-owned vehicles at a discount. Ford is then forced to pay dealers any rebates because the "self-registrations" are technically new car sales, even if the buyer is the same as the seller.
Ford's European market sales and marketing vice president, Roelant de Waard, told Reuters that about 30 percent of all new car registrations in Germany so far this year have been new car dealers selling inventory to themselves.
Just when will Europe improve? Not any time soon.
Ford's de Waard anticipates that "by 2014... we'll potentially start to see some recovery."
Next year will be "roughly carryover" from 2012, he said, and he echoed other automakers by stating that sales aren't likely to see any sort of major boost in the near future unless governments begin more controversial "cash for clunkers" scrappage incentives.