YOKOHAMA, Japan–Nissan Motor Co. (7201.TO) chief executive Carlos Ghosn expects 2013 to be “a year of growth,” with the auto industry seeing a steady increase in global demand driven by the U.S. and emerging countries.
While expressing optimism, Mr. Ghosn warned about uncertainties over the fate of debate on U.S. fiscal policy and persistent dour economic prospects for Europe. He also noted that he remains mindful of the nagging pain caused by the yen’s strength, which could mitigate his projections.
“Yes, Y84 is better than Y78 or Y79. But we are a long way from what I consider neutral territory, which is around Y100 or more,” Mr. Ghosn said of the recent drop in the yen in a meeting with reporters.
The dollar recently hit a 28 month high against the Japanese currency to strengthen to around Y86 after remaining around Y80 for most of 2012.
A stronger yen undermines the price competitiveness of vehicles built in Japan in global markets and dents profits earned overseas when repatriated.
Even as the yen weakened, the currency remains “in negative territory,” the CEO said, hoping that the new Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will take action “to bring the yen at least in neutral territory,” the top executive said.
He said that the yen’s fall to Y110 or Y120 would be seen as the currency actually weakening – a positive development that could boost the car maker’s earnings.
Mr. Ghosn expects the U.S., China, Brazil, India and other growing markets to lead to a 3% to 4% growth to 82 million or 83 million vehicles in industry-wide vehicle demand worldwide in 2013, similar to steady growth of 4%-5% estimated for 2012.
China’s growth pace in 2013 will be similar to 2012 with a 6%-7% increase. But it is an open question whether Nissan and other Japanese car makers will be able to fully benefit from the market growth with stalled talks on territorial disputes between Beijing and Tokyo now being taken over by the newly formed governments in both countries, the CEO said.
Since the territorial spat sparked anti-Japanese protests in China in mid-September, Japanese auto makers have been mired in a slump in the world’s biggest auto market.
The U.S. is another area of concern as the outlook for the world’s biggest economy and the economic impact on the rest of the world hinges on the unresolved issue of the so-called “fiscal cliff”–the tax increases and spending cuts set to go into effect next year.
But Mr. Ghosn said that the Obama administration will find a solution — though he’s not sure when– to help prevent the global economy from falling into a slowdown.
“I don’t think the biggest risk for the economy next year will be coming from the United States. I don’t think so,” he said.