As German luxury brands broad-en their reach with new products, they are gaining volume without tarnishing their upscale images, executives say.
In the U.S., for instance, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz sales have climbed this year through August. Audi leads the pack in percentage increase at 12 percent, followed by Mercedes (excluding Sprinter) at 7.3 percent and BMW at 5.9 percent, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
And in Europe, an Audi, BMW or Mercedes is more likely to be bought each month than a Citroen, Fiat or Toyota. The three German luxury brands have increased their combined share of the European market to 17 percent through 2014 from 10 percent two decades ago, according to an Automotive News Europe analysis of sales data from ACEA, the European automakers association.
Audi, BMW and Mercedes have succeeded in "democratizing" luxury and have boosted volume without sacrificing profit margins. They have done so by launching smaller models targeted at customers who typically had driven mass-market brands, as well as creating new segments with vehicles such as the BMW X6 coupe-styled cross-over and the Mercedes CLS coupelike sedan.
"People's aspirations are much higher these days which, combined with the recent recovery in economic performance, means the premium car segment is much more resilient," Ian Robertson, BMW AG board member for sales and marketing, told Automotive News Europe.
But does increasing ubiquity mean that a luxury brand risks damaging its image? No, says Ola Kaellenius, Daimler board member in charge of Mercedes sales and marketing.
"If you deliver a very authentic Mercedes experience in every segment then we are absolutely fine in terms of fulfilling our brand promise," Kaellenius said. "We have just a little over 2 percent of the global car market, so we're not worried about exclusiveness of the brand."