Premium sector seen to drive sales growth


GLOBAL automakers are counting on China for growth in the premium car sector although they admit that the rise in demand is easing amid a slowing economy and record high fuel prices.

A growing wealthy class and vehicle upgrading in the country have spurred demand for expensive cars and sport-utility vehicles - a key battle arena for global carmakers which are seeking new avenues of growth at a time when sales in Europe are declining while the US economy is recovering slowly.

China's premium car segment rose by about a third last year, according to estimates, while the nation's total vehicle market gained just 2.5 percent.

At the ongoing 2012 Beijing International Automobile Exhibition, Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Daimler which owns Mercedes-Benz, forecast China's premium market to grow 15-20 percent this year. Stephan Winkelmann, CEO of Lamborghini, the premium sports car unit of Volkswagen, also acknowledged demand was slowing.

But still industry executives are confident that the lucrative segment should be on track to maintain double-digit growth.

Carmakers have also been cutting the delivery period and extending dealer network, especially to the second and third-tier cities amid keener market competition.

Lamborghini unveiled its first SUV Urus at the Beijing auto show while Porsche launched its Cayenne GTS SUV, a more powerful version than Cayenne S and features enhanced chassis. Porsche plans to increase Chinese dealers to 60 this year from 41 now.

Ferrari debuted its most powerful Gran Turismo Ferrari F12 to Chinese customers at the show. The car consumes 15 liters of gasoline per 100 kilometers and could cut carbon dioxide emission by 30 percent.

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