Carmakers’ financial performance highlights crisis behind COVID-19

13 August 2020

13 August 2020

Daily Brief editor Phil Curry looks at carmakers’ 2020 quarterly and first-half financial performance, and how the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected the automotive industry. In this first part of two, Curry considers VW Group, Nissan, Renault and Ford.

Europe’s economy is in a state of flux in the wake of COVID-19 lockdowns, with Italy leading the way in extreme measures put in place to prevent the spread of the virus.

Some carmakers have weathered the storm better than others, and many remain optimistic that the impact is merely a ′blip’ in their financial results, with improvements already developing.

VW – one of the most challenging periods

In its H1 2020 results, Volkswagen Group (VW) reported an operating loss of €803 million (before special items). This expanded to an overall loss in the first half of 2020 to almost €1.5 billion when special items are included. Vehicle sales were down 30% compared to the first half of 2019, while production fell 32.5%. Group sales revenue decreased by 23.2% to €96.1 billion.

Frank Witter, member of the group board of management responsible for finance and IT, said: ′The first half of 2020 was one of the most challenging in the history of our company due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The health of our employees, customers and business partners is still the top priority. With our 100-points plan to ensure maximum health protection, we have, for example, created the best possible prerequisites for a safe working environment. At the same time, we introduced comprehensive measures aimed at reducing costs and securing liquidity early on, which enabled us to limit the impact of the pandemic on our business to a certain degree.

′Thanks to the great team effort, we have gradually been able to ramp up operations within the Group and up until now, have steadily managed to navigate through this unprecedented crisis. Due to the positive trend exhibited in our business over the past few weeks and the introduction of numerous attractive models, we look cautiously optimistic to the second half of the year.’

Nissan – major losses

For the April to June period, consolidated net revenue at Nissan was ¥1.1742 trillion. The operating loss was ¥153.9 billion, equivalent to an operating margin of -13.1%. The net loss was ¥285.6 billion.

In its first quarter, Nissan’s global automotive sales fell by almost half amid the pandemic. To limit the spread of COVID-19, the company suspended production at manufacturing sites around the world. Nissan’s plants have since resumed operations but face reduced utilisation of their capacity due to lower demand. The company’s performance continues to be impacted by the challenging business climate, it said in a release.

Nissan raised concerns about its financial performance in April, saying that its full-year consolidated earnings ′may differ by more than 30% from the previous financial forecast’ that was made in February. It is expecting an operating loss of ¥470 billion (€3.7 billion) for the year to March 2021.

Renault – impacted by Nissan

French carmaker Renault Group announced a €7.4 billion net loss in the first half of 2020, with the carmaker highlighting the negative impact of alliance partner Nissan’s results.

The contribution of associated companies came to -€4.8 billion, compared with -€35 million in the first half of 2019. ′This decline came mostly from Nissan’s contribution, down €4.796 billion including -€4.3 billion of impairments and restructuring costs,’ the carmaker said.

Global sales dropped by 34.9%. However, the company stated it had a ′high-level order book’ at 30 June, and sales of its Zoe electric model were up by 50%, highlighting the appeal of the technology. It is also likely that the generous incentive scheme in France helped the carmaker to increase sales in the period from 1 June.

No reliable guidance

However, Renault is unsure of how it will perform in the rest of 2020. ′Given the uncertainties around the health situation, both in Europe and in emerging markets, Groupe Renault estimates that it is not in a position to give a reliable guidance for the full year,’ it stated.

Luca de Meo, CEO of Renault, declared: ′Although the situation is unprecedented, it is not final. Together with all of the Group’s management teams and employees, we are fully dedicated to correcting the situation through a strict discipline that will go beyond reducing our fixed costs. Preparing for the future also means building our development strategy, and we are actively working on this. I have every confidence in the Group’s ability to recover.’

Ford quarter supported by Argo AI

Ford benefited from an investment made in its autonomous subsidiary Argo AI by VW Group, as part of a collaboration deal on driverless and electric-vehicle technology. Without the investment, Ford reported a loss for the second quarter of -$1.9 billion. Including the investment, the firm reported a second-quarter profit of $1.1 billion, up by $1 billion on the similar period in 2019.

Its H1 results reflect the wider picture of the coronavirus impact with six-month losses. For the first half of 2020, the company reported a loss of $900 million – a negative impact of $2.2 billion compared with the same period in 2019. Global sales fell 37% compared to the first six months of 2019.

Ford directed much of its capabilities and resolve in the second quarter to understanding and helping to meet the coronavirus-related needs of customers, dealers, suppliers, healthcare professionals and first responders, and patients and communities. Initiatives like enhanced and new online services, and deferred financing payments on new vehicles in the US, benefitted customers and Ford as commerce stalled, then began to recover. However, with the US yet to emerge from its first wave of coronavirus infections, let alone face a second wave, Ford’s global business may yet be facing deeper challenges in the second half of 2020.

In a follow-up article to be published tomorrow (14 August), Daily Brief editor Phil Curry explores the impact of COVID-19 on the financial performance of BMW, Daimler and Toyota.