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Carmakers aim for big gains in US market

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Carmakers aim for big gains in US market
Photo: DPA
07:57 CET+01:00
German auto makers, lagging behind their American, Japanese and Korean competitors, are hoping for big gains from this month's Detroit auto show, which is pointing to a full recovery of the US market.

German luxury giants Porsche, Volkswagen's Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW are in attendance after Porsche stayed away for four years from the premier show for the industry's newest and brightest.

"Porsche is back in Detroit with force," Porsche chairman Matthias Müller said in announcing a new model, the hybrid 918 Spyder coupe.

The premium automakers are relying on the US auto market's growing recovery, with its 11 percent jump last year and 11.6 million units sold.

Volkswagen saw its sales grow 18 percent in 2010, Audi increased by 23 percent, Mercedes-Benz by 14 percent, BMW by 9.9 percent and Porsche recording a huge 29 percent growth.

BMW is showing several new models here including the 650i convertible, and Daimler introduced a new Mercedes-Benz C class sedan.

2011 should be another good year, suggested Matthias Wissmann, President of the German Automobile Federation (VDA).

Wissmann expects 11 percent growth overall in the US market, to 12.8 million light vehicles in 2011, he told a press conference here.

The German firms are taking advantage of the healthy growth in the "premium" segment of the US market, and may represent a quarter of sales by 2015, said auto expert Ferdinand Dudenhöffer.

Even if their luxury sales already represent a half of the total sold, their combined market share remains at only 7.6 percent, he said.

"Last year in the luxury segment, the German brands built on their dominant position, pushing up their market share to 47.1 percent (compared to) 45.5 percent in 2009," noted Wissmann.

The US market is however dominated by the seven "major" firms, noted Dudenhöffer, including the US "Big Three" - GM, Ford, and Chrysler.

Volkswagen once enjoyed phenomenal success with its Beetle in the post-war years, but in subsequent decades the Germans have become marginal players.

In its own bid to retake its seat at the table, Volkswagen is banking on its new Passat model specifically geared towards the United States.

The new line is being built at a plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where it has pumped in a €1-billion investment. It had not previously had a production line on US soil since 1988.

It is now hoping for annual sales of 800,000 units for all models by 2018.

The United States is "once again the second most important export destination for the German automotive industry, after the United Kingdom but still ahead of China," Wissmann said.

Porsche's Müller meanwhile insisted the United States "is always our largest and most important market."

The luxury brand's latest model was unveiled in Geneva as a concept car, but the German automaker decided to put it into production due to strong interest.

The two-seater mid-engine coupe 918 RSR uses technology from the 911 GT3 R hybrid and the design of the 918 Spyder.

The luxury sportscar maker saw a strong gain in sales in 2010. Some 95,000 cars were delivered to customers last year, a gain of 25 percent.

AFP/ka

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