BMW Passes Daimler in European Sales; Audi Keeps Top Spot for Luxury Autos

Volkswagen AG’s Audi unit defended its top spot in luxury-auto sales in Europe last year while Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s main brand captured second place from Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz as premium-car demand revived.

New registrations for BMWs rose 6.5 percent last year to 609,196, the fastest pace among the three brands, exceeding Mercedes’ 586,146, while Audi stayed on top with sales of 623,536, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association said today. In December, Audi deliveries climbed 16 percent, beating BMW’s 7.3 percent gain and 4.2 percent for Mercedes.

Luxury-car sales benefited as buyers gained confidence in the economic outlook and companies used improved earnings to restock corporate fleets. Demand plunged in 2009 as customers opted for cheaper and more fuel-efficient cars that were backed by government subsidies. Most incentives ended last year. Audi, based in Ingolstadt, Germany, aims to dethrone BMW as the global luxury champion by 2015.

“The recovery of the premium segment in 2010, after the damaging effects from the incentives and a revival of the corporate fleet market, looks set to continue this year,” said Philippe Barrier, an analyst at Societe Generale in Paris. “The key market in Europe is Germany. We expect a recovery there next year and that will be very important for BMW, Daimler and Audi.”

Revamped 5-Series

BMW deliveries were boosted by the revamped 5-Series sedan, while Audi was helped by the new A7 Sportback and A1 compact. Mercedes, with headquarters in Stuttgart, saw registrations decline 0.1 percent as its S- and E-Class sedans lifted sales mostly outside of Europe and as buyers waited for the introduction of the new C-Class sedan. It was Mercedes’ second consecutive decline in Europe.

While the region is still a major market for premium cars, its importance is declining compared with emerging markets in Asia, said Tim Schuldt, a Frankfurt-based analyst at Equinet AG.

“Europe is still the bread-and-butter market where the premium carmakers generate their volume, but it’s not where growth and margins are coming from,” Schuldt said. “There are a lot of lower-end cars in the product mix, while in a market like China people typically go for the XXL deluxe S-class.”

Overall European new-car registrations declined 4.9 percent to 13.8 million, the Brussels-based industry group known as ACEA said in today’s release.

Jaguar Land Rover’s full-year sales gained 9.2 percent to 94,035 and deliveries at Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus division declined 10 percent to 17,857. Volkswagen’s Bentley and BMW’s Rolls-Royce units weren’t listed separately by ACEA.

Volume Market

Demand in Germany is likely to stand out as the strongest economic growth since re-unification fuels consumer confidence and spending in Europe’s largest economy, Equinet’s Schuldt said. Cuts in government budgets and weaker economic growth in other countries will hurt volume market more than premium sales because customers in that segment are more likely to worry about their jobs, he added.

Car sales in Western Europe will fall 2.3 percent to 12.7 million units this year, according to a forecast by Citigroup Inc.

To contact the reporter on this story: Cornelius Rahn in Frankfurt at crahn2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kenneth Wong in Berlin at kwong11@bloomberg.net

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