Now here's a story that won't take many Europeans by surprise. Just as GM, Chrysler and Ford get knocked for selling tons of vehicles to rental fleets in the States, BMW and Audi do basically the same thing in Europe. In fact, those two German firms lead the list of automakers who rely the most on fleet sales in their home market. This according to auto motor und sport magazine, which has reported that Audi and BMW "have the fewest private customers of all brands in Germany," with just 33.5% and 32.8% respectively. Mercedes was least likely to send a vehicle to Deutsch Hertz, with 50.1% going to private owners. VW rang in at 47.5%, Ford at 41%, and Opel tallied 39%.

To put those numbers in perspective, in the U.S., Ford sells about 66% of its vehicles now to private buyers, and 34% to fleets, which is almost the complete opposite of BMW and Audi in their home markets. Both Ford and General Motors, as well as the Chrysler Group to an extent, have managed to lower their fleet and rental sales in the first quarter of 2007.

Fleet sales take a toll on automakers because of the big discounts with which they're usually associated. The magazine says that the Focus typically sells to fleets at a discount of 28%! Passats (27%), Renault Lagunas (30+%) and Ford Mondeos (30+%) also go for a song. At 30% off those cars aren't making much if any money for the manufacturers. Essentially, they just keep the plants running, according to one sales director. It's hard to say why the percentage is so huge in Europe compared to US totals, but the fact that Americans have more vehicles per capita is probably one big factor.

[Source: just-auto, Blogging Stocks]