Analysts urge clients to dump embattled VW

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GROWING NUMBERS of Frankfurt analysts are urging clients to shed Volkswagen stock as insider reports multiply about the dramatically worsening situation in Europe's biggest car manufacturer. For the first quarter of 1993, VW is expected to suffer operating losses of about DM1bn ( pounds 417m), as much as for the whole of the previous year.

The reports are in line with remarks made a few days previously by the prime minister of the state of Lower Saxony, Gerhard Schroder, who sits on VW's supervisory board. Orders for VW cars plunged by 45 per cent in January compared with the same month a year ago, while the decline for Audi cars was 25 per cent. The group's world sales fell by more than 16 per cent in January.

According to other internal information, VW's European production in 1993 will be 200,000 vehicles less than originally planned. Nearly half the company's 120,000-strong workforce in Germany is already affected by short-time working arrangements. Agreement has just been reached for this to be extended into the second quarter of 1993.

According to Der Spiegel magazine, the head of the Volkswagen group, Ferdinand Piech, is to announce a 'drastic savings programme' at the supervisory board meeting on 16 March. The existing plans for a reduction in the workforce of 36,000 over the next five years are no longer judged to be sufficient, given the group's difficulties.

At the same time, Mr Piech will seek approval for sweeping changes among the group's top management. The director for finance, Dieter Ullsperger, and the directors for environmental and legal affairs are expected to be replaced. Daniel Goeudevert, in charge of the Volkswagen brand and deputy to Mr Piech, is expected to be given other responsibilities. Meanwhile, just below the top, the shake-up is already well under way. VW's head of research, Heiko Barske, had to clear his desk yesterday to make way for his counterpart from Audi, Gunnar Larsson.

The Swiss army said it planned to give a vehicle order worth Sfr290m ( pounds 132m) to the local manufacturer Bucher-Guyer instead of Germany's Daimler- Benz. A release from the Defence Ministry said the decision to buy dearer Swiss Duro delivery vehicles instead of Mercedes-Benz's Unimog was based on political as well as technical factors.