Consumers mostly missing from sales spurt

Factory registrations, rental company purchases fueled new-car sales for the first half of 2005

Munich. Nearly 1.7 million new cars were registered in Germany during the first half of this year, an increase of 2.5 percent from the same period in 2004. But behind the figures, there is little cause for joy.

According to nonpublished figures from Dataforce, sales to private individuals were down 4,140, or 1 percent, compared to the same period in 2004.

The sales growth resulted from factory registrations, up 12 percent; short-term registrations, up 7 percent; sales to rental car companies and dealer registrations, each up 6 percent; and fleet sales, up 3 percent.

BMW especially stood out for its increased sales in low-profit sales channels. Its sales to rental car companies were up 83 percent. In addition, BMW showed a 29-percent growth in short-term registrations, the largest growth in the industry, well ahead of VW and Opel, which each increased short-term registrations 22 percent.

BMW boosted fleet sales 7 percent, and the brand's dealers put 7,700 more vehicles on their lots, amounting to a 29-percent increase. By contrast, sales to private consumers were up only 7,130 units, or 17 percent.

"It's not valid to draw conclusions about profitability from that," a BMW spokesman said. Only dealers have any impact on day registrations, he said.

The increased number of demo cars is resulting only from the expanded range of models, and the share of the car rental sales out of all BMW sales in Germany is "vanishingly small at less than 3 percent," the spokesman said.

One dealer said that "BMW wants to exploit Mercedes' sales weakness and keep Audi at bay."

Audi increased its business with rental car companies by 76 percent and grew 19 percent in the fleet market during the first half of this year, compared to the first six months of 2004.

But Mercedes is emphasizing margins over volumes and, as a result, saw declines in its sales totals. Sales to consumers were down 5 percent in the first half of this year compared to same period in 2004.

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