TURIN – Despite predictions that European car sales will fall by 1 million units or more in 2010, the world's top three premium brands – BMW AG, Audi AG and Daimler AG – expect better results.
"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 told Automotive News Europe in an interview.
The recent arrival of the X1 helped BMW boost its first-quarter European sales 7.9 percent to 137,337, according to European automakers association ACEA.
BMW expects further gains because of the launch of the new-generation 5 series, which started to arrive at dealers last month, and the coming debuts of the Mini Countryman and second-generation BMW X3.
"The product momentum is with us," Robertson said.
Mercedes-Benz's global sales should increase faster than those for the overall industry this year, helped by its new E-class model line, CEO Dieter Zetsche said last week at Mercedes parent Daimler's annual shareholders meeting in Berlin.
To achieve that goal Mercedes will rely on strong demand in Europe, were it sold more than 40 percent of its cars in the first quarter.
Audi CEO Rupert Stadler has said his brand will continue to grow in 2010, helped by the launch of new models such as the A8, A1 and A7.
During the first three months of the year, Audi's sales in Europe were up 4.2 percent to 154,408 units.
Juergen Pieper, auto analyst at Bankhaus Metzler, said premium carmakers will be helped this year by an increase in company-car sales. During the economic crisis, many companies cut costs by postponing purchases of new fleet cars. In 2010, they will be more willing to buy vehicles, Pieper told Automotive News Europe sister publication Automobilwoche.
All premium automakers are trying to bounce back from a terrible 2009 in Europe, but the volumes are unlikely to reach pre-crisis and pre-scrapping-subsidy levels seen in 2007, when Europe premium-car sales hit a record high of 3.15 million units, according to UK-based market researcher JATO Dynamics.
“Affordable finance has in recent years been a great driver in favor of premium models, and competitive whole-life costs driven by strong residual values have won them favor with fleet buyers,” David Di Girolamo, head of JATO Dynamics, said in an e-mail reply to questions. “However, CO2-based taxation legislation will always impact upon premium brands most strongly, and that is unlikely to get easier as time progresses.”
Premium segments suffered double-digit sales declines as high as 32 percent in 2009 compared with 2008, based on an extract from the JATO's Volumes Regional Report that covers sales in Europe and Turkey. (See table, below)