BMW Targets Record 2014 Deliveries as German Rivals Take Aim

Jan 14, 2014 10:49 am ET

(Updates with Bentley comments in last two paragraphs. For news on the Detroit auto show, see SHOW <GO>.)

Jan. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, Audi and Mercedes-Benz are targeting at least a fourth consecutive year of record sales in 2014 as new compacts tighten the race among the German rivals for the luxury-car industry’s lead.

BMW, the No. 1 seller of premium cars, delivered just 79,600 vehicles more than Volkswagen AG’s Audi last year, versus 85,000 in 2012, while the gap with Daimler AG’s Mercedes narrowed to 193,500 from 220,000.

A sedan version of Audi’s A3 hatchback and the addition of the CLA coupe to Mercedes’s A- and B-Class compact line-up are part of those companies’ plans to beat sales at BMW by the end of the decade. The Munich-based manufacturer will seek to keep its edge in the stiffening competition by adding the 2-Series coupe. The three manufacturers are battling for new customers in the growing Chinese and U.S. markets as economic woes in Europe hamper demand in their home region.

“The luxury-car makers will continue to grow over- proportionally in 2014,” said Sascha Gommel, a Commerzbank AG analyst in Frankfurt. “The U.S. is helped by cheap financing options, and in China the regional expansion of dealerships and the general economic growth supports demand.”

BMW has been the top luxury-vehicle seller worldwide since dethroning Stuttgart-based Mercedes in 2005. Last year was the third in a row of all-time high deliveries at both carmakers, while Ingolstadt-based Audi has reported annual vehicle-sales records since 2010.

Maserati Growth

VW’s Porsche sports-car unit, which sold a record 162,145 vehicles in 2013, is also targeting further growth this year as the new Macan compact SUV wins first-time customers, Bernhard Maier, the brand’s sales chief, said yesterday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Maserati, owned by Fiat SpA, expects record demand in 2014 pushed by a “significant” increase in the U.S., Chief Executive Officer Harald Wester said in an interview yesterday.

The Italian luxury-car maker, which started deliveries of $65,600 Ghibli sedan in the U.S. at the end of 2013, will add 20 dealers in the country this year, he said.

Maserati is “on pace” to boost sales eightfold to 50,000 in 2015 on deliveries of new models, including its first ever SUV to be introduced next year, Wester said.

Demand for BMW’s mid-sized 3-series sedan, the premium segment’s best-selling model, and the X1 compact SUV propelled the German company’s delivery gains last year. Ian Robertson, BMW sales chief, said in Detroit yesterday that Chinese sales may rise at a “double-digit” percentage rate this year, while the U.S. is returning to pre-recession growth trends.

Mercedes Challenge

BMW is displaying the 2-Series compact in Detroit. Starting in the first quarter, the car will replace the company’s 1- Series model in the U.S., where the company lost its first-place sales rank to Mercedes last year.

Other Mercedes challengers to BMW models in 2014 will include a new version of the C-Class sedan, which will take on the 3-Series, and the GLA compact SUV, intended to counter the X1. Both vehicles will enter German showrooms in March.

“We finished 2013 with a lot of momentum and expect this to continue this year with our new models,” Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said yesterday at a Detroit press conference. The full year of the revamped flagship S-Class sedan’s availability and the compact-car lineup will probably drive demand in 2014, while sales of the C-Class will “experience some effects from the model changeover.”

Audi Gains

Audi is introducing the A3 sedan in the U.S. this year following a rollout in Europe in 2013, and also plans to begin selling a revamped version of the TT coupe. Over the next five years, Audi has budgeted 22 billion euros ($30 billion) in investments to expand its lineup to 60 models from 49 and add production capacity in China, Brazil and Mexico.

Audi predicts “consistent” gains in 2014, CEO Rupert Stadler said yesterday at the show.

Lamborghini SpA will start deliveries of the new Huracan sports car in the second half of this year, Stephan Winkelmann, head of VW’s Italian marque, said in Detroit. Supercar market conditions in 2014 involve “light and shadow,” with North American demand probably growing and European sales stable or showing a “slight decline,” he said.

VW’s Bentley Motors brand plans to build this year on last year’s record sales of 10,120 vehicles, CEO Wolfgang Schreiber said yesterday in an interview. Bentley sold 2,005 of the new Flying Spur in the last four months of 2013 after it became available in all markets, the Crewe, England-based automaker said last week.

Bentley’s U.S. sales grew 28 percent last year, helping the brand gain about 3 percentage points of market share, said Christophe Georges, Bentley’s North America chief. Georges said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the U.S. this year.

“Our consumers are much more sensitive to market conditions,” he said in an interview today. “It’s a matter of being in the right mood to reward yourself.”

--With assistance from Jeff Green, Mark Clothier, Matthew Miller and Tommaso Ebhardt in Detroit. Editors: Tom Lavell, Chad Thomas