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2012 goal: more sales, more luxury

December 23, 2011
As 2011 concludes with the pace of auto sales accelerating, analysts said it makes sense to expect the trend will continue next year.
And it seems likely that that new products, led by the BMW-3 Series and 2013 versions of the Ford Fusion and Chevrolet Malibu, will lure buyers in their segments, and also that 2012’s biggest auto industry stories could include fulfillment of Volkswagen’s promise to grow its U.S. market share.
“Volkswagen is one of the largest [automakers] in the world, yet what they sell in the U.S. is peanuts,” said market analyst Jesse Toprak. Volkswagen’s U.S. focus was underscored by the opening of a Chattanooga, Tenn., plant in May.
Automakers aren’t quite ready to issue 2012 sales forecasts, but Toprak expects 2012 light vehicle sales of 13.8 million units, up from about 12.8 million in 2011.
“The fundamental consumer demand has improved this year and will continue to improve further in 2012,” Toprak said. “The myth of pent-up demand has turned out to be at least partially true: Consumers at some point need to get a new car.”
Widespread projections of continued economic growth, albeit slow growth, combined with a surge in sales in the current quarter, buttress expectations for continued growth in 2012 sales.
Among new products, the most important 2012 introduction could well the BMW 3-Series, debuting next month at the Detroit Auto Show, with a market launch in February. “The 3-Series has generated a lot of buzz,” says Ed Loh, editor-in-chief of Motor Trend. “This is the bread and butter luxury segment, and I think it will see growth in 2012.”
Loh said GM will seek to challenge BMW’s segment dominance with the 2013 Cadillac ATS, which is slated to make its world premier at the Detroit show. Production will begin next summer.
“The ATS is a crucial part of Cadillac’s expansion,” Mary Barra, GM senior vice president of global product development, said recently. “ATS enters the biggest market segment in the global luxury car industry, both in terms of volume and importance.”
The segment is dominated by German cars including the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4, Barra acknowledged, but, “We’ve developed a compelling and convincing new challenger.”
Sales of Toyota’s luxury Lexus GS also are slated to begin early in 2012. “The Lexus GS is coming at a time that is very critical to Lexus, which has been accused of losing its way and making boring cars aiming at the suburbs,” Loh said. Toyota President Akio Toyoda “has said ‘We need to make more exciting cars,’ ” Loh noted.
In the midsized category, sales of the 2013 Malibu will begin in the first quarter, while Ford will unveil its 2013 Fusion at auto shows this winter.