Very early this morning, I was sitting in the back of a VW Transporter being propelled along a foggy Autobahn towards Ingolstadt, Audi’s HQ.

I was reading an equally early email from Erich Hauser, an auto analyst at Credit Suisse, who was underwhelmed by the proposed GM-Peugeot-Citroen tie-up. He pointed out that the two carmakers have a combined component purchasing budget of £78bn but were predicting just a £1.26bn saving from the new alliance.

Ultimately, according to the analyst, PSA and GM do not lack scale, or bargaining power with suppliers, but suffer from under-used factories and the inability to realise decent transaction prices for their products. These problems, says Hauser, affect all the European mass-makers, apart from VW. Hauser thinks that the mass-makers lost around £1.5bn between them in the second half of 2011.

A hour or so later, I was at the press conference where Audi opened its books for 2011. The company made a staggering £4.4bn profit, up 60 per cent on 2010. Admittedly, Audi is a global brand, but the contrast between the kind of money it can bank on sales of 1.5 million cars against the huge losses suffered by the mass-makers in Europe, shows just how perilous the situation is for non-premium carmakers.