Mercedes-Benz has confirmed its position as the brand with momentum in the premium car market due to its revitalised design strategy and high rate of model renewal in recent years.
IHS Automotive perspective
The BMW Group has maintained its status as the world's best sales premium carmaker with sales of 2,247,485 units. In terms of brand sales BMW led the way with 1,905,234 units, with Mercedes-Benz overtaking Audi and coming close to matching BMW with sales of 1,871,511 units. Audi fell to third place, with sales of 1,803,200 units.
It was the fifth consecutive year of record sales for the Mercedes-Benz, which came unexpectedly close to overtaking BMW. Audi fell away as a result of the slowdown in key markets such as China and some model cycle issues with the new A4 only being introduced at the end of the year and the A6 coming to the end of its cycle.
Despite another extremely strong performance from the Mercedes-Benz brand with good sales momentum expected to continue into 2016, BMW is expected to maintain its position as the global premium brand leader.
The big three German premium carmakers have all announced their full-year sales results for 2015, with BMW continuing to lead the way. In brand terms, Mercedes-Benz had a hugely successful year to close the gap to BMW to just 30,000 units and overtake Audi to become the second biggest global premium brand, according to respective company press releases. BMW's Group sales hit 2,247,485 units for the full year with this tally including Mini and Rolls Royce. This was a 6.1% year-on-year (y/y) increase, and a new record for the fifth year in a row. Likewise, the BMW brand posted a record for the fifth year in a row, with a 5.2% y/y increase to 1,905,234 units. Mini sales for the full year rose by 12.0% y/y off the back of strong sales of the new Mini hatchback, with the final figure coming in at 338,466 units. In terms of individual model performance the 2-Series performed well with 157,144 units sold during the year, while the new Active Tourer and Gran Tourer sold a very strong 107,000 units of the combined total. Sales of the 4-Series also rose by 27.4% y/y to 152,390 units. The company's X range of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and crossovers also recorded accelerated growth during the year. BMW Group sales in Europe rose by 9.4% y/y to 999,669 units, with double-digit growth in France and the UK recorded. In the Americas, Group sales rose by 2.8% y/y to 494,629 units. In Asia BMW Group sales rose by 4.2% y/y to 684,121 units, with sales in China rising by 1.7% y/y to 463,736 units.
Mercedes-Benz cars sales (including the Smart brand) increased 14.4% y/y to 1,990,909 units. Smart contributed a full-year figure of 119,398 units, which was an increase of 32.9% thanks to the launch of the new Smart ForTwo and ForFour at the end of 2014. However, the most pertinent figure by way of comparison was Mercedes-Benz brand sales for the full year which came in at 1,871,511 units, just over 30,000 behind BMW. Growth came from across all Mercedes-Benz's major model lines, according to a company statement. The company witnessed a combined uplift of 25.8% y/y across the compact car range, with 582,531 units of the A-Class, B-Class, CLA-Class, GLA-Class and CLA-Class Shooting Brake sold. The new C-Class also enjoyed a very strong first full year on sale, with unit sales rising by 40.1% y/y for the full year to 443,909 units. The range will be supplemented in 2016 with the launch of the well received new C-Class Coupé which was launched in December 2015. It was also a very strong year for Mercedes-Benz's SUVs and crossovers, of which the company launched four all-new or heavily revised models in 2015. Combined sales rose by 26.6% y/y to 525,866 units. In terms of regional markets Mercedes-Benz sold 798,852 cars in Europe, which was a rise of 10.5% y/y, with accelerated growth in the UK, Italy and Spain. While its rivals experienced a slowdown in growth in China and Asia, the Mercedes-Benz brand posted a very strong result, with sales rising in China rising 32.6% y/y to 373,459 units. Sales in North America grew by 5.2% y/y to 392,843 units.
Audi slipped to third in the list of the big three German premium OEMs in 2015 as its sales growth fell to 3.6% y/y to 1,803,250 units. Audi maintained its leading position in Europe and China but experienced some headwinds in other key markets. Audi said that this result was heavily affected by model cycle issues, with the new A4 only being released at the end of the year, and the new Q7 and R8 only just starting to come on stream. In Europe sales rose by 4.8% y/y during the year to 799,950 units, with double-digit growth in Italy and Spain. Sales in the United States rose by 11.1% y/y during the year to 202,202 units. Sales in China actually fell by 1.4% y/y to 570,889 units.
Outlook and implications
BMW remains the leading light on the global premium passenger car market, although the fact that Mercedes-Benz closed the gap to just over 30,000 units in 2015 in brand terms, and displaced Audi to take second place, is significant. The Mercedes-Benz brand has revitalised its model range in recent years and has perhaps more importantly made huge strides with its styling under the stewardship of chief designer Gorden Wagener in an effort to make the brand appeal to a younger buyer buying demographic. It has been successful in this mission, as evidenced by the runaway success of the company's MFA front drive platform range of compact cars. Audi has been affected by model cycle issues, including the late-year introduction of the new A4 and arguably the Q7 is still coming on stream. However, inferring that the R8 is one of the reasons the brand has fallen behind Mercedes-Benz is nonsense. The R8 sells in comparatively tiny volumes and will have made little material difference to Audi's battle against Mercedes-Benz for second place. The real reason that Audi has fallen behind Mercedes is their comparative performances in China. Mercedes has sorted out its sales network, increased local production and is providing products that are compelling to Chinese customers, while Audi's key models, the A4 and A6 were suffering from being late in their model cycle. For 2016 IHS Automotive forecasts that Mercedes-Benz will actually overtake BMW for the first time since 2005 selling 1.97 million units to BMW's 1.94 million units, with Audi third on 1.82 million units. However, the BMW brand is forecast to retake the top spot in 2018.
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