Mercedes regains top spot, BMW to fight back


Riding high on the success of its new launches in the C-class and E-class, Mercedes Benz has regained first position in India’s luxury car market after fellow German rival BMW took it last year.

Mercedes' retail sales this year (January to April) managed to stay ahead of BMW's, at 1,644 units, compared with 1,621 units of the latter, shows data from the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.

Except for March, when BMW recorded unusually high sales, Mercedes sales were ahead in the other months. The Stuttgart-headquartered company, which sports the prestigious three-pointed star, struggled dearly last year when inadequate availability of vehicle kits for the E-class, one of its top selling models, affected overall sales.

The company was in the process of introducing the new E-class into the country towards the end of the last calendar year and had to reduce supply of the previous-generation model of the car, despite the demand for it being upbeat.

Mercedes launched the all-new E-class in November last year at Rs 46.89 lakh, which the company followed with the launch of the coupe version of the car a month before, priced at Rs 54.83 lakh. While the E-class sedan is being rolled out (assembled) from the Chakan plant (near Pune), the coupe version has been brought as a fully-imported unit.

Industry watchers say the battle between the two companies will intensify this year, as BMW gears up to stretch the production at its Chennai plant by adding a second shift there. Both companies are bullish on their respective launches, which are enjoying robust demand from the affluent class. BMW is confident the difference in sales will be wiped out in the next two to three months.

BMW, which has its headquarters in Munich, replaced the ageing version of the 5-Series executive sedan and replaced it with an all-new model last week. This new car, which competes directly with the Mercedes E-class, is priced cheaper at Rs 38.9 lakh, going up to Rs 45.9 lakh for the higher-end version.

"The bookings for the new 5-Series have been very encouraging. The dispatches have not started yet and will only begin in July. That is when we will have retail numbers of the car flowing in. We will comfortably cross 4,000 units in sales this year," said the BMW India spokesperson.

The luxury car market, according to BMW, will grow to 11,000 units this year, compared to about 9,000 units last year. BMW witnessed sales of 3,614 units in the last calendar year, while arch-rivals Mercedes sold 3,247 units during the same period.

BMW India's managing director Peter Kronschnabl had said it had achieved the target of being the number one luxury car player in India a year earlier than projected. It had earlier set the target of 2010 for the purpose.

BMW will look to further bolster its sales with the launch of the X1, a sports utility vehicle, later in the year. This new SUV, showcased at the Delhi Auto Expo in January, will be assembled at the Chennai plant and could carry a price tag of around Rs 25 lakh.