MUNICH – BMW AG is counting on new models such as the BMW X1 and 5 series to protect it against a sharp decline in car sales in Germany -- the Bavarian automaker's top global sales market.
"One thing we have this year that we didn't have for much of last year is a lot of new products," BMW sales boss Ian Robertson said in a recent interview. "The X1 hit the streets in November  and it is outselling our objectives. The 5 series is arriving. As the year progresses we get the [Mini] Countryman and the [BMW] X3 comes at the end of the year. Therefore the product momentum is with us."
With the help of the new models, BMW Group avoided the sharp decline in Germany's overall first-quarter sales. BMW brand sold 50,416 cars in Germany in the first quarter, a rise of 2.2 percent. The X1 accounted for 5,459, or 10.8 percent, of those sales. Combined volume for the BMW and Mini brands rose 1.4 percent to 56,617 units in a market that fell 22.8 percent to 670 410 units compared with the first quarter of last year.
“Germany will be very tough," Robertson said. "It could go back by 750,000 units or maybe a few more."
J.D. Power Automotive Forecasting expects a decline of 761,000 while others see Germany's full-year sales down by as much as 1 million units compared with the 3,807,175 vehicles sold last year.
A large portion of those sales resulted from Germany's successful car-scrapping program, which provided motorists cash to trade in old cars for newer models. Most of the cars bought with the help of the government subsidy were small cars from volume automakers.
"We didn't benefit from the scrapping premium on the way up, but I fear the sentiment in the market may affect the entire industry on the way down," Robertson said.
X1 wins new customers
When asked where BMW is getting X1 customers, Robertson said some are transitioning from the X3, which is at the end of its life cycle.
"But there are a lot of new customers coming from near-premium brands because it is quite competitively priced," Robertson said about the small crossover that starts at 29,550 euros (about $40,128) in Germany.
When asked if he meant near-premium brands such as Saab and Lancia, Robertson said yes. He added that the X1 also is winning customers from top-of-the-range models from volume brands such as Ford and Volkswagen.