BERLIN – BMW AG is upbeat for next year as Europe takes steps to deal with the debt crisis and the U.S. continues to recover from the 2009 recession.
"We're confident for 2012," Chief Financial Officer Friedrich Eichiner said. Europe has made "positive" moves toward debt reduction, he said.
"What we need now is a clear sign that the countries are serious about getting their finances in order," Eichiner said at a presentation of the sixth-generation of the 3-series sedan on Tuesday.
He predicted "double-digit" percentage sales growth next year in the United States, which will probably overtake Germany as the carmaker's biggest market in the near future.
The new 3 series will cost 7 percent to 9 percent less to manufacture because it shares components with other models, Eichiner said. That could boost profit margins for the carmaker, which targets earnings before interest and taxes at 8 percent to 10 percent of sales in 2012 and beyond. The operating profit margin at BMW's automotive unit declined to 11.9 percent in the third quarter from a record 14.4 percent in the second on spending on new models including the 3 series.
BMW is planning for slower economic growth next year and at the same time is prepared for a potential recession.
Frank-Peter Arndt, the manufacturer's production chief, said last month that the company is ready to cut output by 20 percent to 30 percent if necessary.
BMW will respond to a crisis by tapping central bank reserves through its banking unit. "We are remaining watchful and can react flexibly," Eichiner said on Tuesday.
Volatility has become a normal part of business planning, with choppy markets likely to persist until at least 2015, BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer said Nov. 3.
New car rental service
To reduce its dependence on car demand, BMW is expanding in transport services. The company plans a corporate car-sharing offering, which will allow companies to provide per-minute car rentals to staff for business and private use. Personal trips would be charged to the employee, offsetting the company's cost for the car.
The service, which will be available at first in Europe, is being tested in France, Germany and the UK, before expansion in 2012, the program's chief Christian Steiner said at the Barcelona event.
The service, which adds 15 percent to normal corporate lease rates, comes after BMW paid about 700 million euros ($942 million) to buy ING Groep NV's car-lease business to become the fifth-largest fleet management company in Europe.
BMW also has a venture, called DriveNow, which provides private car-sharing services in Germany.
Growth has slowed for high-end carmakers from the record pace in the first half, as Europe's debt crisis unsettles consumers.
Daimler's Mercedes-Benz division suffered a 9.6 percent European sales drop to 51,536 in October, according to industry association ACEA.
Rival Audi sold 53,482 vehicles last month in Europe, 2.5 percent more than the year before, while BMW Group increased sales by 2 percent to 65,006.
Sources: Bloomberg; with contributions from David Jolley