Audi gains ground on premium car rivals

Mon Jan 9, 2012 9:00am EST
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By Maria Sheahan and Christoph Steitz

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Audi, the premium car brand of Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE: Quote), posted record sales in 2011 as demand for luxury cars in China and Russia helped it gain ground on bigger rivals like BMW (BMWG.DE: Quote) and Daimler's (DAIGn.DE: Quote) Mercedes-Benz.

Audi on Monday unveiled sales growth of 19.2 percent for last year, outpacing 12.8 percent for the BMW brand and 8.0 percent at Daimler's luxury brand.

The VW unit sold 1.30 million cars in the year, compared with 1.38 million BMWs and 1.26 million at Mercedes-Benz.

Audi wants to dethrone BMW as the world's number one premium car maker by 2015 through powering ahead in China and the United States, the world's biggest luxury car market.

BMW is betting on the same thing and believes demand in these two key markets will keep it ahead of the pack.

BMW finance chief Friedrich Eichiner said last week he expected the global market for premium cars to grow at more than 8 percent this year, more than twice as fast as the overall car market.

Credit Suisse analyst Arndt Ellinghorst raised his target price on BMW shares to 76 euros from 72 euros, saying he expects premium car makers to come out ahead this year as the gap between the strong and the weak widens further.

"Globalization of demand and the emergence of wealth in emerging markets have widened the gap between global players with strong brand equity and weak domestically-dependent brands," Ellinghorst said in a note on Monday.   Continued...

<p>Newly assembled Audi A1 cars are seen during a visit by Belgium's King Albert II (not pictured) celebrating the 100,000th Audi A1 car assembled and the first anniversary of its production at the Brussels' assembly plant June 23, 2011. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir</p>