German Luxury Cars Shaking Off Shaky Global Economies

Strong sales in China and emerging markets adding to comeback in the U.S.

German luxury car makers aren't suffering much in the economic downturn, posting a strong first quarter for sales, and setting new sales records. While sales are up for Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi in the U.S., it's really the emerging global markets, with China leading the way, that are boosting their business.

BMW, the world's leading premium auto manufacturer, said Friday that first quarter group sales rose 21.3 percent to 382,758 BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce vehicles -- its best result ever for the three-month period.

In March, BMW AG posted sales of 165,842 for a 12-month gain of 17 percent to surpass its previous monthly record in December 2007.

Sales of BMW brand cars gained 14.6 percent to 134,892 in March and 20.8 percent to 321,175 for the first three months of the year. Rolls-Royce sales more than doubled in the quarter to 723. Audi, owned by Volkswagen AG, reported the best quarter in its history, with an increase of 18.4 percent to 312,600 vehicles.

Daimler said sales of its Mercedez-Benz models rose 12.7 percent in the first quarter to 280,500. Mercedes-Benz's China sales jumped 78 percent in the first quarter to 42,990 vehicles.

Analysts point to many factors driving sales in the luxury sector: Executives in high-paying sectors such as banking and finance have returned to receiving bonuses; the stock market has risen to a level almost as high as it was before the 2008 meltdown; those with money enough for luxury cars before the crash of 2008 still have money; there is a lot of "new money" in emerging markets like China, India, Brazil and Russia looking for ways to spend it on luxury badged products.

Audi was able to outsell Mercedes-Benz globally in the first quarter in large part because of its surging sales in China. "With the new generation of the A6 we see even greater potential, especially in China and the U.S.," said sales chief Peter Schwarzenbauer.

Other luxury brands are enjoying surges in emerging markets too. Land Rover posted record sales in March in Russia and India. Jaguar posted record sales in China and Russia.

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