SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Japan's Honda Motor Co. said on Monday it plans to sell its Acura brand in Brazil beginning in 2015, making it the latest carmaker to aim its luxury vehicle lineup at the country's buoyant high-end consumer market.
Honda CEO Takanobu Ito announced the arrival of Acura at the Sao Paulo auto show, where Honda was not the only company eyeing a luxury car market that has grown nearly sevenfold in five years.
"The rich are becoming richer in Brazil," General Motors' South American chief Jaime Ardila told reporters at the show. "It's time to start thinking about bringing Cadillac to Brazil."
Rising wages, especially for scarce highly skilled professionals, have made Brazil a bright spot in the global market for luxury goods. But both Honda and GM said luxury car sales in Brazil are still too slim to consider making it a base for producing their up-market offerings.
German automaker BMW AG, on the other hand, has decided to take the plunge with an investment of 200 million euros ($261 million) in a Brazilian factory announced on Monday after top executives met with President Dilma Rousseff.
The new factory in Brazil's southern state of Santa Catarina will begin producing by the end of 2014 at a rate of about 30,000 vehicles per year, Vice Chairman Ian Robertson told reporters.
That is a sharp jump from the roughly 15,000 imported cars BMW sold in Brazil last year, cornering nearly a third of Brazil's high-end auto segment. Luxury vehicles represent just 1.3 percent of sales in the world's fourth largest auto market.
Ford Motor Co. said in August that it would launch its luxury Lincoln brand in China within two years, but global sales chief Jim Farley said on Monday that the U.S. automaker has no plans to bring the brand to Brazil.
"We don't have any announcements to make here about Lincoln expanding beyond (China), but obviously as we refresh the entire lineup, we'll continue to look at where it makes sense," he told reporters at the auto show. "After we flawlessly execute there (in China), we can have more conversations about the global expansion."
GM is already pushing to boost Cadillac sales in China, the world's largest auto market, and hopes to compete for leadership in luxury car sales in the U.S. market within a few years.
GM's Ardila said while the company is considering selling Cadillacs, the brand portfolio will not expand to include either Europe's Opel brand or Buick. "Our brands in Brazil would be Chevrolet and Cadillac. Just that," he said.
Daimler AG's Mercedes was the first luxury automaker to build cars in Brazil, starting in 1999, but it ceased car production in December 2010 and switched to commercial vehicles.
Honda CEO Ito also announced plans to update the company's small cars in Brazil, the Fit and City, and bring a compact SUV into the market as part of a lineup overhaul beginning in 2014.
The new vehicles are part of Honda's push to sell 1 million autos in Brazil over the next five years, picking up the sales pace from about 93,000 vehicles in 2011.