INGOLSTADT, Germany (Reuters) - German luxury carmaker Audi could reach its goal of 2 million sales a year before its 2020 target, helped by revamped models and new sport-utility vehicles, its chief executive told Reuters.
Rupert Stadler said demand in Europe, where Audi sold 44 percent of its cars last year, was stable, while he was upbeat about prospects for China, where some rivals have reported a drop-off in demand as economic growth slows.
Audi is the profit engine of Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE), Europe’s biggest carmaker, and its sales goal is a key part of the parent company’s drive to overtake Japan’s Toyota (7203.T) to become global industry leader.
Audi’s target was “coming into view” ahead of 2020, Stadler said in an interview at the automaker’s base in Ingolstadt, Germany. “We have good potential.”
German rival BMW (BMWG.DE) retained the global luxury car sales crown for a tenth straight year in 2014, but Audi and Daimler’s (DAIGn.DE) Mercedes-Benz have reduced its lead and are striving to unseat BMW by the end of the decade.
Audi sold 11 percent more vehicles last year, a record 1.74 million, and has delivered double-digit percentage increases in four of the past five years.
Overhauls of its top-selling A4 saloon, the flagship Q7 SUV and the R8 sports car would fuel demand this year, Stadler said.
To beef up its presence in the fast-growing SUV market, Audi will build a new Q1 from 2016 and plans to launch a range-topping Q8 model before 2020.
Sales in January and February this year should be fueled by “very good” orders in late 2014, offsetting declining demand in Russia, Japan and Latin America, Stadler said
“The new year has started out dynamically, with good momentum from 2014,” he said. Audi posted double-digit sales gains in each of the final three months of 2014.
Stadler added demand in China, destination of a third of its vehicles, remained at a “high level”, and forecast overall volume there could grow as much as 9 percent in 2015 based on current estimates after a 6.9 percent increase last year.
BMW sales chief Ian Robertson told Reuters on Jan. 9 that Chinese demand “slowed down quite a lot” in the final quarter of 2014, leading the brand to reallocate some big models such as the X5 and 7-Series away from China.
However, Stadler said he couldn’t confirm a slowing in Chinese demand for larger Audi models, though he acknowledged competition had become more intense.
As for the United States, the world’s largest market for premium cars, Audi is pursuing a long-term goal of 300,000 deliveries after a 2018 target of 200,000 sales moved within reach last year.
Stadler also said an SUV concept vehicle called Urus by Audi’s Italian super car division Lamborghini would be delayed further. Almost three years after Lamborghini unveiled the model in China, production is still awaiting approval by VW’s management board of which Stadler is a member.
“We have yet to do some more homework,” Stadler said, citing the model’s design as well as synergies for development and production. “Such a project isn’t difficult provided the rate of return is right. In any case we need a decision this year.”
As for profits, Stadler said Audi had “very decent business” in 2014, but declined to elaborate. Full-year results will be published on March 10.
Editing by Mark Potter