Feb. 7 - Daimler earnings drop 10 percent - the German auto maker's CEO tells Reuters how poor sales in the key Chinese markets was partly to blame. Julian Satterthwaite reports
TV AND WEB RESTRICTIONS~**NONE~** 10 percent is today's daily digit - that's the expected drop in earnings at Daimler compared with two years ago. The maker of Mercedes cars and trucks says 2013 earnings will come in at just over 8 billion euros - about the same as last year. Europe's economic crisis means sales are flat in Daimler's home market. But the real problem lies in China, where Mercedes can't keep up with German rivals. Audi outsells it by two to one in the world's largest market for new cars. Daimler chief executive Dieter Zetsche admits that's a tough gap to close: (SOUNDBITE) (English): DIETER ZETSCHE, DAIMLER CEO, SAYING: "China is almost a home market for Audi, having been there for decades, so outselling them is quite a challenge, but we definitely will get closer in the coming years." The euro is Daimler's other big headache. The single currency is up more than 12 percent from last year's lows, making Daimler's products more expensive in export markets. Zetsche is pinning his hopes on a raft of new models: (SOUNDBITE) (English): DIETER ZETSCHE, DAIMLER CEO, SAYING: "We have a huge product offensive ongoing, and that is certainly somewhat dampening our profit development, and we will see the harvest in 2014 and the following years." For now Daimler says it still aims to be the world's largest luxury car maker by 2020. For that to happen, the company's new Mercedes models will have to be a hit in China.