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BMW confident as sales charge to pounds 2Obn record.

Rover parent BMW reported a 15 per cent rise in sales last year to a record pounds 20.31 billion, and said weaker 1998 demand in Asia could be offset by additional sales in Europe and North America.

The company said its product offensive was continuing through the introduction of new models, and it predicted Rover, which has been clocking up record export sales despite the strong pound, would see strong volumes of business in 1998.

Further growth was also expected in the group's financial services operations, particularly at Rover.

Last year's sales had been boosted by the weaker mark, as well as a shift in demand to more expensive models and higher revenues from vehicle leasing.

The company did not give profit figures, but said earnings power had strengthened.

Group car production in 1997 grew 4.5 per cent to 1.195 million units, while car deliveries to customers climbed 3.9 per cent to 1.196 million.

Deliveries of BMW branded cars worldwide climbed 4.8 per cent to 675.076 units.

"This was largely due to the full availability of production capacities for the 5-Series BMW and the Z3 roadster," the company said.

Deliveries of the medium-sized 5-Series models climbed 21 per cent in 1997. while 3-Series sales were stable.

On a regional basis, BMW brand car registrations rose slightly in Europe to 432,200 units, corresponding to a market share of 3.2 per cent. In the US, deliveries climbed 16 per cent to 122,500 units.

Growth at Rover was slower than for BMW-branded models. Worldwide deliveries rose 2.7 per cent over the year to 521,020 cars.

BMW said growth would be affected by Asia's financial crisis.

"On the international car market, demand is expected to slacken temporarily in 1998," it said. "This reflects, in particular, the uncertainty of the markets in east Asia and the slight downward trend in the North American car market."

But BMW said weak demand from South-East Asia should be offset by additional BMW sales in Europe and North America.

It said its 1998 stiles would be influenced primarily by the introduction of new 3-Series models.

Rolls-Royce has refused to confirm a report it is to launch new Rolls and Bentley models this spring with new BMW-Rolls engines.

The company acknowledged two new models were in the works along with jointly-made new engines, but said only that the cars would be launched before the end of the century.

The reports, based on information from car dealers in Europe, suggested the new models would be available from next spring after launch at the Geneva Motor Show.

"That is pure speculation," a Rolls spokeswoman said. Fiat's annual letter to shareholders looks set to confirm the company's prediction of record sales and profits for 1997.

Analysts believe Fiat, which has Magneti Marelli in the West Midlands, will achieve sales of around pounds 30 billion in 1997 and post a pre-tax profit of about pounds 136 million.

The Fiat board is expected to confirm the appointment of General Electric vice president Mr Paolo Fresco as retiring chairman Mr Cesare Romiti's replacement.

Fiat enjoyed a boom year in 1997 as an Italian government Car sales incentive plan triggered growth in sales for the first time since 1992. Sales soared by 39.2 per cent.

But the company predicts flat sales for this year.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 30, 1998
Words:560
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