Over the past 12 months the Mercedes-Benz C-Class has established itself as the dominant player in the premium mid-sized segment. This time last year the C-Class (sedan and wagon body styles) was neck-and-neck with the BMW 3 Series, with the former claiming 22.9 per cent of the market versus 22.6 per cent for the Beemer. Today, however, the Merc’s share has exploded to 37.1 per cent on the back of sales that have more than doubled this year to 7409 (January-September), while the 3 Series’ share has softened to 15.8 per cent as its sales have dipped almost 10 per cent to 3154.
But BMW Australia managing director Marc-Heinrich Werner says the brand doesn’t focus on 3 Series sedan and Touring sales individually but views them as part of their larger family, and says he is satisfied with the performance of the wider 3 Series and 4 Series ranges.
“We need to look at the passenger car segment in total in how it’s developing,” Werner said.
“We see 3 Series and 4 Series and we also need to look at in particular 4 Series Gran Coupe’s sales performance. We’re doing pretty well … and there is obviously more opportunity for us to further grow the business.”
In addition to the sedan and wagon, the 3 Series Gran Turismo (202), 4 Series Gran Coupe (675) and 4 Series coupe and convertible (1543) have contributed another 2420 sales, taking BMW’s total mid-sized sales to 5574, which is on par with sales at the same time last year. The brand is expecting a boost in the final quarter of this year on the back of the launch of the updated 3 Series sedan and wagon, as well as refreshed M3 and M4 models.
Mercedes’ ageing C-Class coupe and convertible variants trail their BMW counterparts so far this year at 1392 sales (the new version launches in mid 2016), though the Stuttgart-based brand also offers the peerless CLA-Class sedan and shooting brake models in the medium segment, contributing another 2787 sales this year, giving Merc more than half of the premium medium passenger car segment.
Werner says BMW views the segment holistically, however, insisting that SUV sales also need to be factored in to any discussion about the brand’s performance in the market.
“We’re seeing that there is more customer appetite for SUVs, and we’ve been at the very forefront when it comes to our SUV performance in the Australian market and we’ll continue to do so.
“There will definitely be some kind of balance between the two [passenger cars and SUVs] but the main message is we are not only focusing on one particular car like one of our core competitors is doing but we are focusing on the entire product portfolio. That means from 1 Series to 7 Series, from X1 to X6, and we want to grow the business with all of these cars.”
So far this year BMW has sold 2270 X3s and 788 X4s, giving it a 24.7 per cent share of the premium mid-sized SUV segment, leaving it just short of the Audi Q5 (3133 sales, 25.3 per cent share). Mercedes doesn’t currently have a contender in this class, though that will change in December when it launches the all-new C-Class-based GLC, and expands in the third quarter of 2016 with the GLC Coupe.
Werner says he isn’t worried about the imminent arrival of Mercedes’ new SUVs, rather welcoming the challenge in a segment that BMW has been present in for years.
“Our extensive line-up of X vehicles means we can meet all of our customers’ demands for the cars that Australia loves so much: sports activity vehicles. The fact that BMW piloted SAVs means that we have broad experience in the segment, and we already have a broad range of existing customers. We know what they want, and we can give it to them when they want it.
“The fact that our competitors are desperately trying to imitate our success with copycat models is surely the biggest compliment that we could receive. There have been a lot of comments from them about being late to the party. We’ll let me tell you: we started the party and we are about to ramp it up another notch. We are looking forward to competition, so bring it on.”
The remaining weeks of 2015 are busy for BMW Australia, with the brand still set to launch all-new generations of the X1 and 7 Series, and a new flagship variant for the X4 range, the xDrive35d, in addition to the 318i, 320i, M3 and M4 models.
With three months of the year to go, the brand is up 14 per cent on last year with 19,253 sales, and is on track for a record sales performance. Its growth trails that of its two key rivals, however, with market-leader Mercedes’ passenger cars and SUVs so far tallying 23,642 sales (up 23.8 per cent) and third-placed Audi totalling 17,052 (up 18.4 per cent).