Audi challenges BMW's long reign as luxury sales leader
Through August, brands are neck and neck in global race
Audi cut BMW's lead in 2012 luxury-car sales to just 2,110 vehicles in August, threatening BMW's seven-year hold on the top position globally in premium auto deliveries.
The Volkswagen Group's luxury brand boosted eight-month sales 13 percent to 961,000 vehicles, compared with the BMW brand's 7.8 percent increase to 963,110 autos, according to the two companies' monthly sales reports.
BMW led by 40,513 vehicles through August of last year.
VW is reaping the benefits from pouring $25.6 billion into r&d at Audi since 2002. The luxury brand now sells 12 model lines, twice what it had in 2003, including three SUVs, the A1 compact and the R8 sports car. Audi, which ranks second in premium-vehicle deliveries since overtaking Mercedes-Benz in 2011, has a goal of beating BMW by 2020.
Audi is likely to overtake BMW several years ahead of that target unless "there are surprising shifts in market share which I don't expect, especially in China," said Daniel Schwarz, a Commerzbank analyst in Frankfurt. Audi, he said, is "the strongest growing luxury brand, and they just launched the A3, which is close to being their best-selling car in a peak year."
The updated A3 hatchback went on sale in Germany in August, three weeks ahead of Mercedes' updated A class. Mercedes plans to expand its lineup of compacts from two to at least five in coming years and has opened a plant in Hungary dedicated to building smaller models.
"There will be more A-class derivatives over the coming years," Schwarz said. "But the A3 is established in the market and will take the lead among the three brands, helping Audi to keep its sales momentum."
The 102,730 vehicles BMW sold in August fell short of the 108,100 sold by Audi, which also passed the BMW brand in deliveries in April and July. The VW unit's delivery growth was led by jumps so far this year of 33 percent in China and 18 percent in the United States, the world's two biggest auto markets.
"Every month the figures are surprisingly good," said Albrecht Denninghoff, a Silvia Quandt analyst in Frankfurt. "Audi's growth is overwhelmingly because of China, with the United States also playing a role."
BMW has been slower to capitalize on growth in the Chinese market than Audi, which has built cars in Changchun as part of a joint venture with First Automobile Works since 1996. BMW is now quadrupling its Chinese production capacity, having started manufacturing with partner Brilliance China Automotive Holdings Ltd. in 2003.
Surging China sales have helped Audi double deliveries in the past 10 years, and the luxury brand now accounts for 47 percent of group operating profit. Mercedes-Benz and BMW are both considering following Audi in setting up production in Mexico for the U.S. market, Carlos Guzman, head of ProMexico, said in an interview last month. Unlike Audi, Mercedes and BMW already have U.S. factories.
Audi will invest $1.3 billion in a plant in the state of Puebla to produce the Q5 SUV. The plant is scheduled to open in 2016 with an annual capacity of 150,000 vehicles. BMW is expecting to regain some sales momentum with the arrival of the wagon version of 3 series in showrooms this month. The derivative usually accounts for two-thirds of 3-series registrations in Germany, the carmaker said last week.
BMW has held the luxury-car sales lead since 2005, when it passed Mercedes to grab the top spot.
Last year, the BMW brand delivered 1.38 million cars and SUVs. Audi delivered 1.30 million units; and the Mercedes brand, 1.26 million vehicles.