MUNICH -- Germany's car industry built its world-class reputation on sedans such as the Audi A4, the BMW 5 series and the Volkswagen Passat, reliable models that look good in the family driveway or company lot. But a shift in consumer taste to more hulking vehicles is coming at the worst possible time.
Demand for SUVs that initially took hold in America has spread across the globe, dramatically changing the product mix of carmakers along with their production footprint.
Higher sales of the lucrative vehicles, while good for German automakers overall, threatens to hurt the workforce in factories at home that are heavily geared toward traditional sedans and hatchbacks.
At BMW, sales of SUVs made mostly in the U.S. account for 44% of all global deliveries, up from 24 percent a decade ago -- with a corresponding drop for models such as the bread-and-butter 5 series made at the Dingolfing plant near Munich.
The trend is similar at Audi, which churns out SUVs mainly in Mexico, Hungary and Slovakia, and Mercedes, whose workers in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, can’t make the massive GLE fast enough to satisfy demand.