DETROIT -- BMW AG, Audi AG and Daimler AG, the world's three biggest premium carmakers, said they plan to grow faster than competitors in 2012 after setting sales records last year.
Deliveries at BMW this year will rise by a single-digit percentage that outpaces the car market's expansion of 4 percent to 5 percent, Ian Robertson, the company's sales chief, told reporters Monday at the Detroit auto show. The CEOs of Audi and Daimler said they expect their sales to exceed market growth of 4 percent.
BMW's namesake brand maintained its top rank in luxury-car sales in 2011, helped by new versions of its X3 SUV and 5-series sedan. Audi, a unit of Volkswagen AG, overtook Daimler's Mercedes-Benz marque to place second in full-year sales for the first time. The carmakers are counting on new models, such as the updated Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz SL roadster on display at the Detroit show, to sustain demand as they jostle for industry's lead.
BMW and Audi "are well positioned, and their product range means they'll both grow, but I find their estimates for market growth optimistic," said Christian Ludwig, a Bielefeld, Germany-based analyst for Bankhaus Lampe who recommends buying Volkswagen and BMW shares and holding Daimler. The sovereign-debt crisis in Europe will hurt sales in the region, and "I see between 0 percent and 1 percent growth as possible globally."
Mini's sales gain
Deliveries by the BMW brand jumped 13 percent last year to 1.38 million cars and SUVs. Group sales at Munich-based BMW, including the Mini small-car division and Rolls-Royce ultraluxury marque, rose 14 percent to 1.67 million vehicles. Ingolstadt-based Audi's sales increased 19 percent to 1.3 million deliveries.
Mercedes-Benz posted an 8 percent gain to 1.26 million cars and SUVs. Including a 4.6 percent increase for the Smart brand, sales at the Mercedes-Benz Cars division of Stuttgart-based Daimler rose 7.7 percent to 1.36 million deliveries.
BMW rose 2.3 percent to 56.84 euros at Monday's close in Frankfurt. That pared the stock's decline in the past 12 months to 2.8 percent. Daimler gained 0.7 percent to 36.73 euros, narrowing the 12-month drop to 32 percent. Volkswagen's preferred shares fell 1.8 percent.
Carmakers' Chinese performance
The German luxury-car manufacturers' sales rose at least 30 percent in China. Audi CEO Rupert Stadler estimated Monday that the country's market will expand about 8 percent in 2012.
"China is slowing down, but it is still a market that for the premium makers will grow by about 20 percent this year." said Arndt Ellinghorst, a London-based analyst at Credit Suisse who has a "neutral" recommendation on Daimler an "outperform" on BMW and Volkswagen.
Sales growth in China at Daimler amounted to 31 percent, the biggest national increase for the carmaker.
The German company, which has had talks in the past with potential Chinese investors, has no immediate plans to sell a stake to a shareholder in that country, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said at the show Monday. He was commenting on a Manager Magazin report in December that said Daimler is seeking an investor from China to buy a 5 percent to 10 percent stake.
Zetsche is "very optimistic" that Mercedes-Benz will reach a goal set last year of returning to the No. 1 spot in global luxury-car sales by 2020, and he isn't ruling out beating the deadline, the CEO said in a Bloomberg Television interview from the Detroit show. BMW overtook Mercedes-Benz as the industry leader in 2005.
Daimler will probably remain profitable this year, and it will stick to a policy of paying out 40 percent of profit in dividends, he said at a separate briefing. Daimler isn't planning any buybacks, he said.
Audi's sales gains contributed to a 14 percent sales jump at Volkswagen, Europe's biggest carmaker, which delivered a record 8.16 million cars, SUVs and vans last year. VW's namesake brand sold 13 percent more vehicles at 5.09 million deliveries, and sales at the van unit jumped 21 percent. The Skoda brand's deliveries rose 15 percent and the Seat brand's increased 3.1 percent.
Audi is likely to maintain its second-place luxury-car industry rank until 2014 or 2015, as Mercedes-Benz needs to build up sales of the lower-priced A-class and B-class lines, Credit Suisse's Ellinghorst said.