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German luxury car brands hit.

FRANKFURT: Germany's luxury car brands felt the pinch last month from weakening US and domestic markets, as global vehicle sales fell at Mercedes-Benz and growth slowed at BMW and Audi.

Thanks to the launch of popular new versions of its 1 Series range of compacts, BMW data released yesterday showed it widened its sales lead over smaller rivals Mercedes and Audi, which both blamed their soft patches on troughs in model lifecycles as two high volume products are due for a facelift.

Shares in all three parent companies fell yesterday following weak US job data that sparked fears of a spillover that could sour consumer confidence in the world's largest luxury car market.

Higher demand, particularly in Asia, could not offset a combined 23 per cent drop in sales of Mercedes A- and B-Class compact cars in Europe ahead of their scheduled refreshening later this month, dragging the brand's volumes down by 5.1pc to 98,100 vehicles last month.

Nearly 111,000 customers drove off in a new BMW in May, an increase of 2pc mainly on higher demand for the brand's smallest model. BMW 1 Series sales doubled last month accounting for a fifth of all deliveries, overwhelmingly due to the roll-out of new cabrio, coupe and three-door versions. BMW reported a 2.9pc gain in sales of its full-size X5 sport utility and said customers were lining up for its newest X6 offroad model, which debuted in late April.

"Our order books for the X6 are already full for the rest of 2008," BMW sales boss Ian Robertson said.

Dubbed a "sports activity coupe" due to a car-like silhouette which distinguishes it from other SUV crossovers, the company said some 2,650 X6s were sold over the past five weeks.

BMW's growth last month outpaced a 0.8pc gain at Audi, where sales rose to 88,200 vehicles as the changeover of its best-selling A4 model depressed demand.

"We have set a sales target of one million vehicles for 2008, expecting strong year-on-year growth in the second half," Audi chief executive Rupert Stadler said, adding his company was ahead of schedule with respect to its forecast.

Full availability of new A4 mid-size cars will provide a significant boost starting in August once production of its relaunched Avant estate version reaches full capacity, Audi said.

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Publication:Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Date:Jun 11, 2008
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