Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are largely responsible for the growing success of the compact premium segment because of their commitment to expanding their offerings in a part of the European market that used to be dominated by models such as the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus.
Through August, sales in the compact premium sector were up 9.2 percent to more than 606,000 units, putting the sector in position to account for 6 percent of Europe's total new-car sales this year, according to figures from JATO Dynamics. That success is expected to continue as compact premium sales are forecast to top 1 million by 2020, LMC Automotive predicts, making it the first premium segment to reach seven-digit sales.
What is driving the growth is the rapid addition of new variants by Audi, BMW and Mercedes. The intensifying competition has made it possible for all three German automakers to claim to be market leaders, depending on how the sums are worked out.
Based on sales of a single model line, the Audi A3 held onto its traditional lead in the first eight months, despite a 7 percent drop in sales and the threat posed by the continued success of the second-placed Mercedes A class, which posted an 18 percent rise. BMW’s 1 series was third (see table, below).
However, it is BMW and Mercedes that vie for overall leadership when sales of all the different body styles -- hatchback, sedan, station wagon, minivan, coupe and convertible -- are added up. (The calculations for this story exclude sales of premium compact SUVs and crossovers, which Automotive News Europe includes in a stand-alone segment).
For example, growth of the Mercedes CLA sedan and CLA wagon, combined with sales of the A class and B class helped Mercedes take the overall lead in the compact premium segment with a volume of almost 185,000 units through eight months.
BMW was close behind with combined premium compact sales of nearly 175,000 units. The total includes the successful 2-series Active Tourer and Gran Tourer minivan variants, the 1-series three- and five-door hatchbacks as well as the 2-series coupe and convertible.
Audi ranks third in overall compact premium sales because it has diversified the least of the three German automakers. The sedan derivative of the A3 remains relatively niche at 20,312 sales through August, with the convertible version of the three-door hatchback accounting for less than 7,000 units.