TOKYO -- The world's two biggest premium carmakers -- BMW and DaimlerChrysler -- played down on Tuesday prospects that high U.S. gasoline prices would dent consumer demand for high-end or heavy vehicles.
"Prices have gone up in the U.S. but for us at least we have not seen a change in buyer behavior," BMW Chief Executive Helmut Panke told an industry conference ahead of the Tokyo auto show.
He said an extra $500 or so in fuel costs may prompt a tougher choice for buyers of cars that offer basic transportation, but would not put off those who can afford a premium car.
"The current high energy prices -- and we should be prepared that they stay that way for, say, the next three, four years -- will not basically impact the premium segment as much as they will the basic mass market," he said.
Dieter Zetsche, the head of Daimler's Mercedes Car Group premium division and former head of U.S. arm Chrysler, said media prophesies that the U.S. market for light trucks and SUVs would collapse had not come to pass.
"I don't think there is proof so far that that there will be a substantial change" in consumer behavior, he told the conference, adding he did not expect any dramatic shift in the 54 percent truck/46 percent car split now seen.
Employee pricing schemes by the big U.S. manufacturers helped keep demand for fuel-thirsty trucks and SUVs alive at mid-year despite record fuel prices, but their sales slipped in September and remain weak this month.