A Mercedes showroom in Munich. The carmaker reported its best-ever second quarter in China and hoped other countries would follow
A Mercedes showroom in Munich. The carmaker reported its best-ever second quarter in China and hoped other countries would follow © Bloomberg

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Daimler chief executive Ola Kallenius said he was “cautiously optimistic” about a recovery in the global auto market, despite sales of Mercedes brand cars falling almost 19 per cent in the first half of the year.

Speaking at the opening of the carmaker’s annual meeting, Mr Kallenius also revealed that Daimler’s truck division suffered a 38 per cent drop in orders in the first six months of 2020.

However, the Stuttgart-based luxury manufacturer had its best-ever second quarter in China, with sales of Mercedes vehicles in the country — Daimler’s largest and most profitable market — up by more than 21 per cent.

“We are cautiously optimistic that other markets will follow this development step by step,” said Mr Kallenius.

“Nearly all of our worldwide dealerships have opened again,” he added. “Already in June, global retail car deliveries were slightly above the prior-year level again.”

However, Mr Kallenius warned of further cost-cutting measures, after Daimler, which is grappling with an expensive transition to electric vehicles, announced last year it would cut 10,000 jobs.

“Our previous efficiency goals covered the upcoming transformation, but not a global recession,” the Swedish executive told investors at the virtual meeting.

Daimler chief Ola Kallenius reiterated that it remained the company’s ambition to meet EU-mandated CO2 targets this year
Daimler chief Ola Kallenius reiterated the company’s ambition to meet EU-mandated CO2 targets this year © AFP/Getty Images

Daimler also confirmed it was in talks with British industrial giant Ineos about the future of its Smart plant in Hambach, France, which it had put up for sale.

Mr Kallenius reiterated that it remained the company’s ambition to meet EU-mandated CO2 targets in 2020, avoiding large fines from Brussels.

Last year, the automaker’s average passenger car CO2 emissions in Europe increased to 137g per km, rising for the second year in a row, partially due to the increased popularity of large sport utility vehicles, drawing criticism from environmental activists.

“Climate protection is apparently still lagging behind profit maximisation at the group,” said Jens Hilgenberg, head of transport policy at Friends of the Earth Germany.

The company, whose shares have fallen more than 20 per cent over the past year following a series of profit warnings, also faced renewed criticism from key shareholders.

“The Mercedes brand has slept through the transition to electromobility,” said Janne Werning, a representative of Union Investment, a top-20 Daimler shareholder.

Mr Werning said Union would vote against Daimler paying a dividend of €0.90 per share, and refused to ratify the actions of the management and supervisory boards.

Institutional investor Deka also lambasted Mr Kallenius and his board for lagging behind rivals in developing electric cars, pouring scorn on Mercedes’ flagship battery-powered vehicle, the EQC, which it branded “too late, too expensive and too boring”.

Separately on Wednesday, German auto supplier Continental warned that the contraction in the global car market could last for at least half a decade.

In a transcript of a speech due to be given at the company’s annual meeting next week, Continental chief executive Elmar Degenhart said that “no more than 70m cars will leave auto assembly lines by the end of 2020”, compared with approximately 90m last year.

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