Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

BMW 2015 Sales Growth Slowdown Risks Luxury Car Top Spot

  • BMW deliveries 2015 rise 5.2%, while Mercedes's climb 13%
  • Fresher lineup, growth in China lift Mercedes deliveries

BMW AG is at risk of losing its lead in the luxury car market this year to Mercedes-Benz after reporting the slowest sales growth since 2009 while its German arch-rival charged ahead with a fresher lineup and surging demand in China.

Sales of BMW vehicles rose 5.2 percent to 1.9 million last year, the Munich-based company said Monday in a statement, while Mercedes deliveries jumped 13 percent to 1.87 million.

Mercedes-Benz, which lost the No. 1 spot to BMW in 2005, is benefiting from demand for coupe-like sport utility vehicles such as the GLE. The unit of Stuttgart-based Daimler AG on Sunday unveiled its revamped E-Class sedan, which competes with BMW’s 5-Series, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The model goes on sale in March. BMW, meanwhile, may replace its 5-Series sedan no earlier than the start of 2017. 

“It’s quite probable Mercedes will overtake BMW sales this year,” Juergen Pieper, a Frankfurt-based analyst with Bankhaus Metzler. “The Mercedes’ E-Class is hugely important and will win new customers, while BMW has little coming up this year to throw into the balance.”

Mercedes last year moved past Volkswagen AG’s Audi for the first time since 2010 to become the second-biggest global luxury car brand.

The carmakers’ fortunes diverged after China’s economic growth decelerated to what’s set to be the slowest pace since 1990. A stock market plunge and clampdown on conspicuous consumption further undermined Chinese consumers’ buying intentions. Still, Mercedes sales in the country jumped 33 percent in 2015, with China becoming the brand’s biggest market.

By comparison, BMW’s deliveries in China, the world’s biggest car market, gained only 1.7 percent. 

"We will need to be prepared for market volatility in China in the short term," Ian Robertson, BMW’s sales chief, said Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. “It’s too early to say what the effect of the current situation on the Chinese stock market will be.”

Both Audi and Mercedes have declared they want to unseat BMW by the end of the decade as the leader in global luxury car sales. Audi’s sales rose 3.6 percent to 1.8 million cars last year, also the smallest rise since 2009. BMW was the last of the three to report worldwide deliveries for the year.

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