Paris Auto Show: Muted Optimism

Wednesday, 29 Sep 2010 | 1:14 PM ET
Source: ford.com

The Paris Auto Showis typically one of the great showcases for the auto makers from all over the world. Sure it's the "home" show for Renault, Peugeot, and Citroen, but every automaker looks to make a statement in Paris.

This year it's more a quiet statement.

And for good reason. When I talk with executives from the U.S., Europe and Asia, everyone says the same thing, "Business is OK, but who knows when it will really come back?"

When I talked with Ford CEO Alan Mulally before he unveiled the new Focus ST he said, "The slow economic recovery is impacting sales growth, but sales growth will continue."

So for the rest of this year he expects U.S. auto sales will come in between 11.5 and 12 million vehicles.

Ford CEO at Paris Auto Show
Ford CEO Alan Mulally speaks with CNBC's Phil LeBeau at the Paris Auto Show about the company's new Focus ST and the road map for Ford's other new vehicles.

After that, almost everyone says the same thing: gradual sales growth next year. Hardly the environment to get giddy over future models.

Still, Paris is important because it shows the world, not just the people of France, how the automakers are positioned for future growth. More importantly, do they have the models that will connect with buyers down the road? A big part of that is the enthusiasm that shows like this generate.

Until consumer confidence returns, the guarded optimism of CEOs is what we can expect. Nobody believes the industry will reverse course from where it's at right now. But getting sales to take that next leg up is too unpredictable for even the boldest CEO.

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.