FRANKFURT -- A rejuvenated line-up of snazzy new models has sparked record June demand for competing premium carmakers BMW and DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes Car Group, both companies said on Thursday.
Halfway through the year, BMW has once again proved its growth engine has a few more horsepower than that of its Stuttgart rival, overtaking DaimlerChrysler's flagship Mercedes-Benz brand to be the best-selling luxury marque in the world.
A further look to Audi shows that German engineering is back in style. Volkswagen's premium unit had an even more successful June than its two larger rivals, with sales up more than 16 percent last month.
Having breached the barrier of 400,000 cars sold in the first half for the first time in its history, Audi is clearly not surrendering any market share to Mercedes or BMW.
"All three are profiting from an expansion in the premium car segment, and there's enough room for all of them there since it's the other carmakers like Ford and GM who are paying the price," said Jochen Siebert, vice president Europe of industry research firm CSM Worldwide.
Despite a strong euro, sluggish auto markets and fierce competition and an ongoing discussion over quality, enough customers are streaming into showrooms that the outlook remains bright for the luxury carmakers.
BMW reported group deliveries grew 13.5 percent in June, pulled by its reliably popular 3-Series mid-sized saloon.
"Never before have so many vehicles been sold in a single month as in June 2005," the world's largest premium carmaker said, adding the first half was the most successful in history.
Rolling out its M-Class offroader in the United States and the B-Class compact sports wagon in western Europe, Mercedes Car Group posted a more subdued 5 percent growth but also reached record territory when compared to other Junes in the past.
"For both our competitors and us, the record figures are very much attributable to the attractive, young model range," a spokeswoman for Daimler said. "There's hardly a car market around the world that's growing."
BMW brand sales through the first six months gained 8.6 percent to 538,132 units compared with 499,900 vehicles for the Mercedes-Benz brand, a decline of 4.3 percent.
Despite this first-half decline in deliveries, Daimler said it expected sales of its flagship marque to rise in coming months thanks to new models.
Both the B-Class and M-Class enjoyed an excellent start in western Europe, Daimler said. It sold 6,300 B-Class cars in June and has orders for roughly 40,000 units.
Because the M-Class was launched only on July 2, Mercedes declined to provide order figures but said it expected to publish more details in the days ahead. It's already on sale in the United States.
By comparison, BMW said it delivered a total of 69,385 new 3-Series cars since its relaunch in March, lifting total sales of both new and old versions of the model 6.1 percent from the start of the year.
CSM's Siebert says both companies have tapped a new vein with many of their models that enjoy resounding success, but Mercedes has one weak link, according to the industry analyst.
"The C-Class has become obsolete in its design, and even after its facelift, it still is not doing well," Siebert said.
"Mercedes is trying to perform a split by serving their increasingly older target group while at the same time trying to appeal to the young with models like the B-Class compact and the mid-size C-Class is being squeezed right in the middle."
BMW expects group car sales to grow by a high-single-digit percentage figure this year to an all-time high, while Mercedes Car Group sees a slight increase from 1.226 million wholesale deliveries in 2004.
Its record of 1.232 million from 2002 is just 6,000 units away, but Mercedes won't say if it expects to top that this year.
While both of its two core competitors are reporting strong earnings, Mercedes posted a rare operating loss of 954 million euros ($1.2 billion) in the first quarter due to the strong euro, model changeovers and problems at its Smart brand.
Mercedes will take up to 1.2 billion euros in charges this year to restructure Smart, the urban minicar that has lost money since the brand made its debut in 1998.
The profit collapse at Mercedes prompted an efficiency drive that aims to boost earnings at the division by over 3 billion euros and restore an operating margin of 7 percent by 2007.