SINGAPORE -- BMW remains confident about sales and profit prospects in 2004 despite the weakness of the dollar and a poor start to the year in the United States, Chief Executive Helmut Panke said on Friday.
BMW reported a 22 percent drop in U.S. sales in January, but Panke said this followed a very strong end to 2003.
"We'll see record high sales again in the United States this year, so January definitely was not a pointer. We're still very optimistic, not just for the USA, about sales this year," Panke told Reuters.
BMW releases it 2003 results on March 11. Panke repeated earlier comments that they would match 2002's profit of 3.3 billion euros ($4.13 billion).
Panke also stood by his forecast that BMW would notch up record sales in 2004, driven by an expanding range of models, which he said would provide "a good basis for a very successful development on the profit side".
Speaking ahead of a meeting in Florida of leading finance ministers and central bank chiefs, Panke said BMW was less affected than other carmakers by the weakness of the dollar, which he described as undervalued.
He said the Munich-based carmaker was benefitting from its three-pronged strategy for coping with currency volatility -- short-term hedging, increasing parts purchases from the dollar area over the medium term, and, for the long term, diversifying production out of the euro area.
BMW has increased its output more than four-fold in the United States since it started production in Spartanburg, South Carolina, about a decade ago.
"That's why we're quite relaxed about the year 2004," Panke said, referring to the impact of a weakening dollar, which erodes the value of dollar-based overseas sales.
He declined to disclose the dollar-euro exchange rate for which BMW was budgeting and said it would be foolish to try to react to short-term currency swings.
"This is something where you should always be a little bit forward looking and not too nervous," Panke said.
Panke was in Singapore to talk about BMW's prospects for 2004. He said he expected continued double-digit growth in Asia.
BMW sold 92,934 vehicles in Asia in 2003, an increase of 18.5 percent.
Asia last year accounted for 8.4 percent of BMW's global sales of 1.1 million, which included the Mini and Rolls-Royce brands as well as the BMW marque.
Panke lter told a news conference BMW was well on its way to achieving its goal of selling 150,000 vehicles in Asia by 2008, which would be 10 to 15 percent of the firm's global sales.
"In the long term we continue to pursue the goal of raising Asian sales steadily to the high level of our traditional sales pillars -- Germany, West Europe and the United States," he said.