However, don’t expect Mercedes to be on the list of auto groups Washington will bail out anytime soon.
DETROIT – How similar is a Porsche to a Ford? It’s simple: none of them are currently selling well.
Like their counterparts in declining markets, luxury car brands are suffering. In 2008, US sales of Porsche-branded vehicles (Nasdaq OTC and others: PSEPF.PK – news – people) fell 25.2% and Maybach-branded vehicles by 32.6%, while Lamborghini sales fell by 21% and those of Mercedes, by 11.5%. As for the BMW company, it sold 9.7% fewer vehicles in America than last year.
However, don’t expect these auto groups to be among those that Washington will bail out anytime soon. Ernst Lieb, President and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, announces that his company will continue to design and market new models that generate excitement about the brand and encourage people to see them at exhibitions, if only to dream. The Mercedes group presented its 2010 E-Class sedan at the Detroit Motor Show, while some of its rival companies, such as Rolls Royce and Porsche, did not display their vehicles there.
“We’re not going to drop everything,” Lieb said. If I manage to find a customer today who is interested in one of our cars, that’s a good sign, because it means that in three days, when they are ready to buy this vehicle, they will. »
Following the lines of luxury
Other groups are following suit: BMW presents its 2010 Z4 convertible, Lexus reveals the 2010 HS250 hybrid and Cadillac presents its Converj concept and its 2010 SRX crossover. And while brands such as Mercedes and BMW have conforming their production quantity in their factories around the world to the current circumstances, Lieb thinks it is “premature” to change their entire plan of operation.
“Above all, it is an investment in the future,” he adds. You can’t just say, ‘Oh damn, we’re in a recession and everything is collapsing!’…The surest way to get customers to buy is to design new products. »
In fact, Mercedes shares rose 0.1% last year as the US auto market weakened. Similar scenarios occurred for the Audi and BMW brands. According to Jim O’Donnell, president of the BMW Group in North America, there are always opportunities to be seized. This year, his business will focus on expanding markets such as Belgium, Canada, India and Russia.
Stuart McCullough, a board member of Bentley Motors, said his company is adopting a similar strategy, pulling its vehicles out of the declining US auto market and marketing them in expanding sectors in China as well as the Middle East. Bentley’s sales rose 53% in China and 18% in the Middle East last year, although its global sales for 2008 fell 24% from its record rate in 2007. will not venture to speculate on the return of the luxury market, but he hopes that the new Bentley models will attract more buyers.
Sales of the Bentley Continental GT coupe rose 11% in the global market and 19% in the United States. “These figures confirm the fact that it is the arrival of new models – in this case, two-seater sports cars – that is slowing the decline of the car market,” McCullough notes.
A major challenge
Nevertheless, the ultraluxury market may not be as robust as it looks. Despite the increase in sales of Rolls Royce vehicles (Nasdaq OTC and others: RYCEY.PK – news – people) in 2008 – which amounted to 26.6% – the senior director of the automotive test center of the American monthly Consumer Report David Champion wonders how companies will be able to sell cars that are priced at $400,000 this year.
“I still think that in the United States enough people have a good job and a good salary that it encourages them to drive a nice car,” Champion said. This is something they do daily; the idea of accessing luxury a little every day pushes them to drive a nice car, whether it’s a Mercedes or a BMW. To some extent, we are soon going to see a drop in sales of very, very expensive Rolls Royce [and] Maybach cars. It’s a little too blatant. Lieb
, the CEO of Mercedes, is more candid: “What do I think of the companies Bentley, Lamborghini and Aston Martin? Ouch…I wouldn’t like to be in their shoes. »