U.S. luxury-car sales, once considered resistant to recessions, have plunged 40% over the past two years, compared with the overall market’s 35% drop. Now, high-end car makers are preparing for a rebound that promises to be just as unconventional.
After falling to their lowest level in more than a decade, sales of high-end cars look set to inch toward recovery this year. Volkswagen AG’s Audi is forecasting a roughly 10% jump in U.S. sales, while BMW AG, Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz say they also expect modest increases.
But exactly how the premium-car market will recover remains uncertain and was a topic of intense speculation at this week’s big Detroit auto show. The sales plunge prompted by the recession has been so steep that consumers may be redefining what they want in a luxury vehicle, adding anxiety to a rebound.
“Affluent people will still choose to reward themselves,” said Audi of America’s chief, Johann de Nysschen. “But it will continue to be less about conspicuous consumption” and more about exclusivity and fuelefficient performance.
Mercedes, for example, has been promoting its midsize E-class sedans in recent months with TV commercials that emphasize high-end safety features, such as a fatigue-warning system for drowsy drivers, and play down the brand’s old-school luxury image.
Mercedes, for instance, plans to introduce four-cylinder engine options in the U.S. for its http://www.imagerentacar.com/mercedes-benz.htm models. The move, its executives said, anticipates more-stringent emissions standards.
For now, analysts and dealers believe that four-cylinder luxury cars will be a tough sell. “Traditional six- and eight-cylinder engines are still the moniker of luxury in the U.S,” said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst at IHS Global Insight.
For instance, the hybrid version of its high-end S-class now makes up 10% of S-class sales in the U.S. Mr. Lieb added the company has adjusted production to reflect the hybrid’s rising share of sales.
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