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BMW vs Mercedes - Clash of the Teutons


By attaining the leadership position in a country in just its third year of operations, BMW India created history within the group worldwide. In 2009, BMW sold 3,619 units, while Mercedes-Benz India managed 3,247 units. BMW overtook Mercedes for the first time when the January 2009 sales were revealed and hasn’t looked back since.

It was a rude shock for Mercedes-Benz – after all they had a 12-year presence in the country and whatever they had put up for sale was getting sold. Suddenly, they were not number one in the luxury car segment anymore. It was time to act, and act fast.

The action began at the Auto Expo in January, where a collective intake of breath accompanied the rise of the gull-wing doors of the SLS AMG supercar – easily, the star of the show. Internally, Mercedes-Benz called it the 12x12 strategy. It would be an unprecedented onslaught of 12 new cars and/or variants in the first twelve weeks of the year, ranging from the huge GL-Class SUV to the armoured S-Guard limousine and everything in between. 

# In 2009, BMW India sold 3,619 units; Mercedes-Benz India sold 3,247 units

# Both players have associated themselves with golf, high fashion and varied touch-and-feel experiences with the brand for customers

# They are selling a lifestyle and not just automobiles

# The game will also be played out at the retail level

# Jan-April ‘10 sales are neck-and-neck: BMW sold 1,621 units, while M-B did 1,603 units

Certainly, its Munich-based competitor was in no mood to stay quiet. BMW introduced the limited edition Gran Turismo, the extremely powerful X6 M SUV, a host of other variants and just last month, the all-new 5 Series. Over and above this, to garner more volumes, both players have introduced stripped-down versions of their big sellers – as seen with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Executive Edition and the BMW 3 Series Corporate Edition – to bring in not just newer customers into their fold but big-ticket fleet operators as well. It’s not even the middle of the year yet and both manufacturers promise a host of more new cars.

“We assure you that the rest of 2010 will also be highly engaging and we do have a few more surprises in store for our customers,” says Wilfried Aulbur, the MD & CEO of Mercedes-Benz India. His “few more surprises” could be the category-busting R-Class, the cabriolet version of the stylish E Coupe and new products powered by the recently introduced CGI technology.

BMW too promises not to relax. “In 2010, we will resolutely expand our product range and thus cover all the opportunities in the luxury segment which are relevant for us,” promises Dr Andreas Schaaf, the new president of BMW India. That would mean, among others, the revamped X5 in the third quarter of the year, new variants of the 5 and the much-anticipated X1 compact SUV to be assembled at their Chennai plant – thus making it within reach of many Indians.

Car manufacturers always use new product launches to drum up excitement and keep the tempo up in the marketplace. When it comes to luxury cars, new engine technologies plus safety and comfort features also play a big role. But in this case, both the luxury car makers realise they need to do more than mere product launches — after all, they are selling a lifestyle and not just automobiles.

Both manufacturers have inevitably associated themselves with golf, high fashion and varied touch-and-feel experiences with the brand for customers. Beyond the association of the brands in high profile activities, both the German manufacturers realise the game is going to be played out at the retail level.

“With an investment of over Rs 200 crore in network, Mercedes-Benz is now present in 26 cities with 55 touch points, the largest for any luxury player in India,” says Aulbur. In fact, the manufacturer has weeded out underperforming dealers, leading to a 30 per cent churn in their 2009 line-up.

BMW, being the newer player and with only 17 dealer facilities, is racing against time to establish its presence in more cities. “An aggressive plan was implemented for completion of phase 1 (12 dealers in the major metros) much ahead of schedule. Owing to an exuberant growth potential, we will expand operations in 10 additional cities in phase 2 of our dealer network strategy,” says Schaaf.

Though both carmakers may say they are not in the volumes game, numbers always provide a huge morale booster and, well, who doesn’t want to be a leader. In January-April 2010, BMW sold 1,621 units while Mercedes-Benz’s revival has translated into 1,603 units. “Our sales numbers reflect our traction in the market,” says Dr Aulbur, while Schaaf says, “One thing is certain: this is the moment of transition.”

The race is pretty close and there are still eight long excruciating months to go, during which the action can get quite intense. Better strap up.


In the above article, Mercedes-Benz India's January-April 2010 sales are mentioned as 1,603 units. Mercedes-Benz India states that this figure pertains to their wholesale sales (cars invoiced to their dealers), while their retail sales (cars actually sold to customers) is 1,644 units - which is higher than the retail sales of BMW mentioned in the article, at 1,621 units.