BEIJING -- BMW has trailed Lexus as the No. 2 luxury brand in the United States for the past decade and may fail again to grab the crown in 2010, despite its rival's recall woes.
BMW AG global sales chief Ian Robertson said the brand's sales will be suppressed this year by the wind down of the old 5 Series and the roll out of the new one.
“Effectively, we've run out our existing 5 Series and won't launch our new 5 Series until June,” Robertson said at the Beijing auto show. “So a full-year effect won't be felt.”
The 5 Series accounts for about 25 percent of BMW's volume in the United States, he said.
“We still see we will have some growth this year, but it's a few digit points,” Robertson said. “How that turns out with competitors' volumes remains to be seen.”
Market researchers say Lexus has been hurt by Toyota Motor Corp.'s widening recall problems. Those problems include this month's recall of the Lexus GX SUV after being deemed a safety risk by Consumer Reports and earlier actions to fix the ES 350 and IS 250 and 350.
But Lexus sales were still up 42 percent to 20,219 vehicles in March, compared with a year earlier. During the first quarter, Lexus sales improved 18 percent to 49,523 vehicle.
Mercedes-Benz was No. 2 in March, up 28 percent to 20,031 while it was up 26 percent to 50,590 during the quarter.
The BMW division rounded out the big three luxury brands, with sales climbing a modest 3 percent to 18,060 units. For the first quarter, BMW division sales rose 8 percent to 46,323. Robertson didn't offer a target for the full year.
In contrast with the United States, China is seen as a big growth market for BMW this year.
On April 23, BMW Group, which includes the Mini and Rolls Royce brands, raised its full-year sales target to 120,000 units, from an earlier goal of 100,000. The new forecast represents a 33 percent increase over BMW sales of 90,000 units in China last year. Robertson said China is expected to become BMW's third biggest market this year, from No. 4 in 2009.
Five years ago, China sales weren't even in BMW's global ranking list, Robertson said.
Last year, the BMW group sold 242,087 vehicles in the United States -- a 20 percent decline from 2008.