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BMW claims global luxury sales lead

Tokyo. BMW group expects to surpass the Mercedes Car Group in global sales this year, something it has not done since 1995.

"This year, we caught up to Mercedes in volume," Michael Ganal, BMW sales and marketing chief, said in an interview at the Tokyo auto show. "That makes us currently the largest seller of luxury cars in the world."

BMW expects its performance in the first three quarters will be sustained for the entire year.

For the full year, Ganal predicts total sales at BMW, Rolls-Royce and Mini brands of 1,371,000 vehicles, compared to about 1,208,000 for 2004.

BMW growing faster

BMW believes it is growing faster this year than its rival and will make up the difference from last year, when the groups' worldwide difference was 22,000 units.

Mercedes has been the traditional sales leader, but in 1995 BMW brand outsold the Mercedes-Benz brand, 590,100 to 585,600 units. Since then, both brands have added entry-level and super-premium brands.

BMW group's performance "works out to a growth rate of 9 percent," Ganal said. "In the process, we plan to push the 200,000 mark with the Mini, and reach last year's level of 800 units with Rolls-Royce."

In Germany, BMW plans to grow in high single-digit percentages. Sales there were 283,600 vehicles in 2004.

Mercedes, Audi grow

The Mercedes Car Group says only that it will finish 2005 "above last year." In 2004, the group sold 1,230,000 vehicles, with 1,080,000 of them from its core brand and another 150,000 in the Smart and Maybach brands.

The No. 3 German luxury brand, Volkswagen group's Audi, also is on a growth curve.

"This year, we will boost sales to as many as 840,000 units," said Ralph Weyler, the Audi sales chief.

Germany should account for 245,000 Audis, up from 235,700 in 2004. Sales ought to reach 100,000 in Asia, compared to 81,260 last year. About 63,000 of those sales are expected to be in China, down from 64,000.

Audi also expects Japanese sales to rise to 16,000 this year from 13,750 last year.

Compared to its competitors, Audi is weak in the United States. Weyler expects sales of about 84,000 vehicles there, compared to 76,000 last year.

"Having our own factory in the U.S. would indeed be nice," he said. "But that is not going to happen this decade."

Last year, Mercedes sold 221,610 units in the U.S.

A BMW spokesman said that "we plan to maintain last year's level in 2005. Since the 1 series isn't being offered in the U.S., we aren't going to be growing sky high."

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