MUNICH — A possible U.S. recession threatens the sales outlook for German automakers there, but executives say they are well positioned to handle a downturn.
The United States accounts for more than 20 percent of the total sales of Porsche, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, but executives say they would be less affected by a recession there than other automakers because of their upscale customer base.
Porsche relies on the United States for 36 percent of its worldwide sales. Despite the shaky economic outlook, the Stuttgart sports car maker remains confident.
"Especially in the U.S., we have a very solvent clientele," Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking told shareholders. "Porsche is prepared for a possible slump."
In addition, he said, sales held up in the earlier crises triggered by falling share prices in 2000, the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, and the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003.
Audi also says it will avoid letting the threat of a recession hold up its growth plans.
"We generate 90 percent of our sales outside the U.S., and our growth in those areas is unabated," a spokesman said.
The situation seems different for the Volkswagen brand. It has recorded losses in the United States for years.
"The high-volume manufacturer is closer to the average consumer," said Arndt Ellinghorst, an analyst at Credit Suisse in London.
The VW brand generates just 6 percent of its worldwide sales in the United States. "But it's well positioned in growth markets such as China, South America and eastern Europe," said Juergen Pieper, an analyst at Bankhaus Metzler in Frankfurt.
Credit Suisse analyst Ellinghorst advises companies "to keep their inventory of vehicles low in the United States, sell only as many as necessary, and then sell the vehicles with higher contributions to profit in emerging markets."
Porsche leads the way: "Inventories in the U.S. have already been sharply reduced," Wiedeking said.
Automakers are sticking with their U.S. investment plans. BMW is expanding its factory in Spartanburg, S.C., and VW is close to announcing the site for a new U.S. factory.
Albrecht Denninghoff of BHF-Bank believes the timing is right for the move: "Land is cheap, the dollar is cheap, real property is cheap."