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Audi Buyers Wait Months as Plants Struggle to Keep Up

Audi Courts Executives With A6 to Challenge BMW 7-Series
The 2012 Audi AG A6 sedan at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Audi AG buyers must wait an average of three to four months for cars like the $52,700 A6 sedan as the company runs factories at full steam in an effort to keep pace with record demand, sales chief Peter Schwarzenbauer said.

“If sales continue to grow like this, it’ll be difficult to say how long it could take to reduce waiting times,” Schwarzenbauer said yesterday in a phone interview from Audi’s headquarters in Ingolstadt, Germany. “We’re working at full capacity at our plants and may add extra shifts on Saturdays.”

Buyers of Audi’s full-size A6, which is coming out in a new version starting in March, and the compact A3 have especially long waits due to the models’ popularity, spokeswoman Esther Bahne said. Customers generally receive their cars within eight to 10 weeks of their order during periods with more normal levels of demand, she said.

Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz division and Volkswagen AG’s Audi, Germany’s three biggest luxury-auto makers, all reported record sales for January, with the VW unit besting its two larger rivals in deliveries for the month. The manufacturers are adding or expanding plants this year to satisfy growing demand from China, the U.S. and Germany.

Volkswagen’s preferred shares were the best performers in Germany’s benchmark DAX index last year, surging 86 percent and outpacing BMW’s 85 percent rally. VW added as much as 1.1 percent to 124.30 euros today and was trading at 123 euros as of 2:26 p.m. in Frankfurt.

Long Waits

Customers at BMW, the world’s biggest luxury-car maker, must wait as many as three months for most models and as long as six months for the overhauled X3 sport-utility vehicle, said Birgit Hiller, a spokeswoman for the Munich-based company.

Waiting times at Mercedes-Benz, which ranks second to BMW in global sales, are at close to the pre-recession levels of 2007, with most vehicles ordered now scheduled for delivery at the beginning of the second quarter, said Verena Mueller, a spokeswoman at the Stuttgart, Germany-based manufacturer.

“Among the three carmakers, Audi seems to be in the most tense situation,” said Thierry Huon, a Paris-based analyst at Exane BNP Paribas with an “outperform” recommendation on Volkswagen stock and an “underperform” on BMW. “If you’re forced to deliver two months after your competitors, you never know what your customers will do.”

The A3 is priced starting at 20,950 euros ($28,700), while the A6 costs a minimum 38,500 euros, according to the ADAC German auto association’s 2010 yearbook. BMW’s X3 starts at 45,960 euros.

Record Sales

Audi accounted for 47 percent of Volkswagen’s operating profit in the first nine months. The luxury unit’s deliveries have increased more than 30 percent in the last five years, reaching a record 1.09 million in 2010.

Audi is working with suppliers to ensure a timely stream of components as the industry struggles to keep up with the recovery in demand, Schwarzenbauer said. The company expects to achieve “double-digit” vehicle-sales growth in China and the U.S. this year and aims to grow in a stagnant European market, he said, adding that industrywide global sales will probably increase by 5 percent to 62 million vehicles.

“High demand and scarce supply can help their economies of scale and may let them pass on higher input prices and reduce incentives,” said Frank Biller, an analyst at Landesbank Baden-Wuerttemberg in Stuttgart. “But you have to make sure not be too close to the edge - you have to keep buyers happy.”

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