Volkswagen AG’s Lamborghini and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG said they expect sales of luxury cars in China to rise at a slower pace amid higher fuel costs and a decelerating economy.
Lamborghini Chief Executive Officer Stephan Winkelmann and BMW sales chief Ian Robertson are among global car executives who said yesterday at the Beijing auto show that Chinese demand is slowing. Volkswagen, Europe’s largest carmaker, said April 22 that industrywide inventory of vehicles in China is rising.
China’s economy expanded 8.1 percent in the first three months from a year earlier, the least in almost three years, as exports cooled and Premier Wen Jiabao waged a campaign to damp consumer and property prices. The slower pace of growth and stiffer competition prompted BMW, Daimler AG, and VW’s Audi AG - - the world’s three biggest premium automakers -- to dangle steeper discounts in the world’s largest automobile market.
“The message sounds a bit more cautious than before,” said Juergen Pieper, an analyst with Bankhaus Metzler in Frankfurt. “Everybody understands that growth has been too high to sustain. I think the market will normalize to a more sustainable rate of growth.”
China raised prices of gasoline and diesel last month by the most in more than two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
BMW expects sales growth this year to “ease somewhat” from a gain of 37 percent in the first quarter, Robertson said. Still, new products such as the revamped 3-Series and a factory that will open next month in Tiexi will help the company post a double-digit sales increase in the Asian nation this year as it targets a new global sales record, he told reporters yesterday.
Orders for Lamborghini in China were lower in the first quarter, which is being offset by a pickup in the U.S. and the Middle East, Winkelmann said. Lamborghini expects to beat last year’s global deliveries of 1,600 vehicles in 2012.
Porsche AG, the sportscar maker jointly owned by VW and the Porsche SE holding company, expects that growth will slow to about 10 percent this year in China from 65 percent in 2011, Chief Executive Matthias Mueller said in a Bloomberg TV interview yesterday. Sales last year were boosted by the revamped Cayenne SUV, he said.
Growth is expected to accelerate when Porsche introduces the Macan compact SUV in China in 2014. The company sees potential to double sales as it increases dealers to 100 from 40 by 2015, Mueller said.
Sales by Maserati SpA, a unit of Fiat SpA, in China may exceed 1,000 cars for the first time from 822 vehicles in 2011, Chief Executive Officer Harald Wester said in Beijing yesterday. Smaller cities outside of Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin will drive gains for Maserati, he said.
Local automakers face difficulties in promoting self-developed models given pressure from joint ventures, competition from well-known international brands and demands to cut emissions and fuel consumption, Xu Heyi, chairman of Beijing Automotive Group Co., said yesterday in Beijing.
Vehicle sales will probably miss an 8 percent growth forecast, Gu Xianghua, deputy secretary of the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, said March 21, citing his personal opinion.
Sedan sales in China declined 2.2 percent in the first quarter. So-called dual-purpose vehicles used to ferry goods and people slumped 8.5 percent, while truck sales dropped 6.8 percent, according to data from the auto association.
That’s in contrast with 2010, when total auto demand jumped 32 percent after the government introduced subsidies and rebates. Sales then slowed to 2.5 percent last year after the incentives ran out.
Growth in the premium segment will be “definitely slower” this year, Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes, chief executive officer of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd., said in an interview in Beijing yesterday. Rolls-Royce is a unit of BMW.
“In the past three months, we have seen growth but not in the explosive manner we have seen before,” said Mueller-Oetvoes. “You can sense a little bit of hesitation on the economy.”
— With assistance by Siddharth Philip, and Chris Reiter