Chinese car buyers seem to have a preference for larger cars. BMW hopes to take advantage of this and has decided to make a bigger version of the in-demand 3-series sedan. BMW wants to tap into this customer base and pull them away from frontrunner General Motors Co. and other major automakers.
The stretched 3 series, which was intentionally designed for the Chinese market, is longer by 110mm (4.3 inches) than the regular model. It is included in a wider effort by German luxury-car makers to sell more cars aimed at first-time Chinese buyers after many years of working to sell their most expensive models.
At the Beijing auto show, Ian Robertson, BMW's sales chief, said that the premium market here is “developing from the top downward.” He said that as time passes, the smaller segments will have faster growth.
Presently, the small car market in China is dominated by high-volume manufacturers like General Motors. In the first quarter, overall car sales in China fell by 1.3%. In response, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi are expanding into that market to increase growth and lessen reliance on their largest models like the 7 series, half of which are sold in China.
Bernstein Research said that bigger sedans and SUVs made up at least 70% of premium car sales in China in 2011 compared with 40% in Germany. Cui Dongshu, deputy secretary general of China's Passenger Car Association, said that the second generation of the wealthy Chinese is growing up and are now buying cars.
The luxury automakers want their lower-end products to appeal to these young buyers and entice them to trade up. The German automakers, the three biggest luxury car producers in the world, stand to gain market share in 2012 in China as broader offerings put the pressure on mass-market producers. China's weaker economic growth, which has reached its slowest pace in almost three years, affects the mass-market automakers the most.
The luxury automakers were ready to impress the market at the Beijing show. Mercedes unveiled a pre-production version of the CLA four-door coupe, the smaller cousin of the CLS that costs 59,860 euros. Audi showed concepts that were based on the Q3 compact SUV. This will be imported into China beginning this year, after the A3 hatchback and A1 subcompact that started selling in 2011.