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Stronger Chinese auto sales lift luxury German brands

by Staff Writers
Frankfurt (AFP) Dec 8, 2009
Stronger Chinese auto sales have lifted the prospects of German luxury car makers which were left behind in an earlier rush to buy cheaper models with 'cash-for-clunkers' subsidies, analysts say.

Audi, BMW and Daimler, which owns Mercedes-Benz, all reported better sales in November on a 12-month basis, with China clearly the fastest growing market for all three.

"China is standing out right now," Metzler Bank auto analyst Juergen Pieper told AFP.

Already the biggest market for Audi's parent group Volkswagen, "within five years it will be the most important country for Daimler and BMW," Nord LB analyst Frank Schwope forecast.

"Maybe in the next three or four years for Audi," he added.

Schemes approved by governments worldwide to boost the auto sector with credits for junking an old car mainly benefitted makers of cheaper autos, including VW which aims to overtake Toyota as the biggest automaker by 2018.

Buyers shunned the kind of powerful cars that Germany is best known for and their sales slumped sharply early this year.

November deliveries thus compared favourably with what were already weak sales one year earlier, with Daimler reporting a gain of 16 percent, BMW one of 11.5 percent and Audi one of 8.9 percent.

"Since September, sales have been back on the growth track," BMW sales director Ian Robertson said in a statement.

"We intend to continue this trend in December," he added.

In the 11 months from January to November 2009 however, the three firms posted declines of 12.2 percent for BMW, 11.8 percent for Daimler and 5.4 percent for Audi compared with the same period in 2008.

But Pieper said that for now, "it's probably right to say the worst times are over for the premium sector."

In China, Daimler more than doubled its number of November deliveries to 8,900 vehicles, making the country its fourth biggest market, while Audi also more than doubled sales to 16,500 and surpassed its full-year target in the process.

BMW's annualised increase in China last month was a more modest 39.7 percent but it still sold 8,470 vehicles there.

The Chinese auto group Geely said on Tuesday that it delivered around 250,000 vehicles in the first 10 months of the year, meeting its sales target as it seeks to buy the luxury Swedish brand Volvo from Ford.

After helping to stabilise sales in 2009, "China has a chance next year to really be the locomotive of the global car market," Pieper said. "This is certainly the brightest spot in the market right now."

Other large emerging economies have also provided support but Indians for example are focused on small cars at present and China is in "another dimension" when it comes to more expensive autos, Pieper said.

"India will be as interesting as China is today in 10-15 years," Schwope added.

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