BMW Bets on SUVs to Snatch Luxury-Car Sales Crown From Mercedes

(Bloomberg) -- BMW, the carmaker struggling to propel sales that are rising at less than half the rate posted by rival Mercedes-Benz, is counting on a delivery boost later this year from high-volume models like the revamped X3 and all-new X2 sport utility vehicles.

“In 2018, sales growth will come in the second half,” and the SUV line-up will “put us on track” to regain the worldwide luxury-car delivery lead by 2020, Pieter Nota, the German company’s new head of sales and marketing, said Wednesday in an interview at the Beijing auto show.

BMW AG Chief Executive Officer Harald Krueger pledged almost a year ago to redouble efforts for the company’s namesake brand to retake top spot in premium-auto sales that it lost to Mercedes in 2016, and he laid out the 2020 deadline in January. The Munich-based carmaker is in the middle of a record rollout of new models and derivatives to help meet its goal. BMW’s deliveries this year have gained 2.8 percent, compared with a 6 percent jump at Mercedes.

While expecting a “slight” increase in global sales for the course of the year, meaning a range of zero to 5 percent, BMW sees demand growing “solidly” in China, its biggest market. The carmaker will start producing the X3 locally at its Shenyang plant this year, its sixth model to be made in the country.

Fresh Ideas

Nota, 53, will be pivotal to orchestrating BMW’s return to the No. 1 luxury-vehicle sales rank as the manufacturer also deals with an epic industry shift to electric powering systems and driverless technology. He’ll be tasked with bringing in fresh ideas to a company that led manufacturers’ development of SUVs starting in 1999 with the X5 and that made an early move into electric cars.

An outsider to the industry, the former marketing executive at Nivea face-cream maker Beiersdorf AG and electronics producer Royal Philips NV joined BMW in January, succeeding long-time sales chief Ian Robertson.

Aside from pushing deliveries, Nota’s tasks span getting more people to use BMW’s services like car sharing and intelligent parking, as new players like Uber Technologies Inc. encroach on its turf. Mercedes parent Daimler AG and BMW merged their car-sharing operations last month, with plans to turn the venture into a global player with partnerships.

“Combined with our production push, we’re trying new initiatives for our customers,” Nota said. “We want to leverage the data pre- and post-purchases, as well as during, so we can offer better services.”

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