Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) widened its luxury-auto sales lead over Audi AG (NSU) last month on demand for the 3-Series sedan and X1 sport-utility vehicle, while Daimler AG (DAI)’s Mercedes-Benz brand gained momentum with new small cars.
Deliveries at the BMW brand, the world’s largest premium carmaker since 2005, rose 4.4 percent to 159,195 vehicles in March, beating the 3 percent gain posted by Volkswagen AG (VOW)’s Audi. BMW’s bigger increase helped widen its lead in the first quarter, with the Munich-based automaker delivering 381,404 cars, or 11,904 more vehicles than Audi.
Mercedes increased sales 6.5 percent last month, with demand for the new A- and B-Class compacts climbing 49 percent in the first quarter. The Stuttgart, Germany-based carmaker trailed behind BMW by 56,506 vehicles in the three-month period.
BMW Chief Executive Officer Norbert Reithofer said last month that the carmaker’s factories are running at full capacity to keep up with demand. Sales of the X1 through March jumped 28 percent, while 3-Series deliveries climbed 20 percent. Gains at Ingolstadt, Germany-based Audi were led by deliveries of the A1 small car and Q3 compact SUV.
“The BMW group achieved an all-time high in sales last month and the best first quarter in its history, despite the headwinds present in Europe,” Ian Robertson, BMW sales chief, said in a statement today. “We are aiming for further growth in BMW group worldwide sales in 2013.”
The German luxury carmakers, all of which are targeting sales increases this year, have fared better than the region’s volume auto manufacturers as rising demand in China and the U.S. offset plunging industrywide deliveries in Europe. The region is wrestling with a sixth straight year of declines.
“In spite of the difficult market in western Europe, we’re still seeing positive sales numbers for the premium manufacturers,” said Frank Biller, an analyst at Landesbank Baden-Wuerttemberg in Stuttgart. “It remains to be seen to what extent these sales were bought with higher rebates. It’s not easy to push sales in a market like this.”
Deliveries by Volkswagen’s namesake brand in March fell 0.8 percent to 532,400 vehicles as demand plunged in the manufacturer’s home region, the Wolfsburg, Germany-based carmaker said today. First-quarter sales gained 5.2 percent to 1.43 million cars.
“Markets are becoming more difficult, and in some cases decidedly more challenging,” Christian Klingler, VW’s sales chief, said in a statement.
Fiat SpA (F) Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne said an expected drop in European deliveries this year isn’t priced into the Italian carmaker’s 2013 targets. The CEO said today he will update the regional distribution of his forecasts at the end of April, when Fiat releases first-quarter results.
“North America, Latin America and Asia Pacific keep on sustaining our forecasts, while in Europe we still see a significant level of uncertainties,” Marchionne said at the automaker’s annual meeting in Fiat’s headquarters city of Turin.
Fiat, which would have posted a 1.04 billion-euro loss ($1.36 billion) in 2012 without its holding in Chrysler Group LLC, currently plans to boost trading profit to as much as 4.5 billion euros in 2013 from 3.81 billion euros last year.
Volkswagen dropped as much as 3.7 percent to 150.40 euros, the lowest intraday price since Nov. 16, and was trading down 2.2 percent at 1:30 p.m. in Frankfurt. The stock has declined 11 percent this year, valuing the German automaker at 68.4 billion euros. Daimler was 0.2 percent lower while BMW gained 0.3 percent. Fiat rose 0.7 percent in Milan.
Mercedes is looking for a further sales boost this year once it adds the CLA four-door coupe to its compact car line-up this month and brings out a revamped version of its upscale E- Class at the same time. A new version of the flagship S-Class sedan is scheduled to reach showrooms in the second half. The automaker’s first-quarter deliveries climbed 3.5 percent.
To meet rising demand for A- and B-Class models, the manufacturer will increase production of the vehicles with 21 extra shifts at its plant in Rastatt, Germany. The compact-car facility in Kecskemet, Hungary, added Saturday production this month, and Mercedes will build more SUVs at its plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Daimler has said.
“At Daimler, you’re starting to see the effect of the A- and B-Class,” Biller said. “The momentum should pick up in the second half.”
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