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In Geneva, end of tunnel nowhere in sight for carmakers

GENEVA, March 05 (BSS/AFP) - The Geneva International Motor Show opens its doors today under a dark cloud, with no sign of a speedy rebound in sight for the troubled European market.

The 83rd edition of the show will be reserved for the media on the first two days, but on Thursday the floodgates will open to the public.

The event, which is considered one of the most important car shows of the year, will again be heavily marked by the crisis in Europe after an already catastrophic year in 2012.

Last year, only 12 million new cars were sold in the European Union -- the lowest number since 1995.

And 2013 did not start off any better. In February, new car registrations in Spain slipped 9.8 percent, in France they fell 12.1 percent and in Italy they plunged 17.4 percent.

Even Germany, Western Europe's leading car market which withstood the crisis last year, has not been spared, seeing new car sales shrink 10.5 percent last month.

"The first months of the year have been marked by weak demand in Western Europe," Matthias Wissmann, the head of the German auto federation VDA, said in Geneva Monday.

Volkswagen head of sales Christian Klingler agreed, insisting "the European market is still just as complicated."

Japan's Toyota also voiced pessimism when it came to sales in Europe, which most analysts think will fall between three and five percent this year.

Several carmakers are also undergoing far-reaching restructurings of their European activities in a bid to cut back over-capacity and adapt to the new reality on the crisis-hit continent.

French PSA Peugeot Citroen, for instance, has had a very bumpy ride and suffered a 5.0-billion euro loss last year. In July it announced the closure of its historic plant in Aulnay,
near Paris.

US carmakers Ford and General Motors, who lost billions of dollars in Europe last year, also decided to shut down plants, with Ford closing sites in Belgium and Britain and GM closing an Opel plant in Germany.

Volkswagen is doing better thanks to its heavy footprint outside of Europe with its 12 brands, allowing it to rake in a record net profit in 2012 of 22 billion euros.

And on Monday, its new Golf won "car of the year" at a pre- show event in Geneva.

Once the show gets underway, it will be the luxury market that will be most prominently on display, with for instance Lamborghini's new multi-million dollar Veneno supercar among the headturners expected to draw big crowds.