BMW North America Chief Stands Pat With Winning Hand

Ludwig Willisch sees opportunities to grow sales in North America, but he’s not interested in the sub-$30,000 segments. At the high end of the price spectrum, Willisch is content pitting BMW’s Rolls-Royce against Daimler’s Maybach brand.

Herb Shuldiner 1, Correspondent

April 9, 2015

2 Min Read
320i sedan ensconced at bottom of BMW price range
320i sedan ensconced at bottom of BMW price range.

NEW YORK – For BMW North America Chairman Ludwig Willisch, success breeds success.

“Being number one plays a role in attracting some buyers,” he says of the automaker’s leadership in the luxury category. BMW’s U.S. sales were up 12.6% year-over-year in the first quarter and it had a 5,956-unit lead over rival Daimler, up from just 1,500 in Q1 2014.

“We’re content with where we are,” Willisch tells WardsAuto in an interview at the New York International Auto Show.

BMW will grow as least as fast as the industry does this year, he says. The luxury category expanded faster than the mass-market segment in the first two months of the year, Willisch notes.

He sees new opportunities to grow sales in North America, but he’s not interested in the sub-$30,000 segments. The lowest-priced models in the BMW portfolio are the X1 and 320i, priced at about $33,000.

At the high end of the price spectrum, Willisch is not eager for BMW to launch a Maybach fighter. He says BMW is content with competing against Mercedes in the super-luxury segment with its Rolls-Royce brand.

Willisch does see more potential for BMW in the truck segment. “We could sell more trucks if we had more,” he says. One move to grow that segment will come in 2018-2019, when the automaker plans to launch the X7 that will be a bigger SUV than the X5.

He predicts rising vehicle sales in Canada and Mexico this year, but sees the South American market holding steady at best. He points out that Brazil, the world’s fourth-largest car market, is in a recession. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the overall market in Brazil declines,” Willisch says. But he predicts BMW won’t lose its share of that market.

BMWNA is headquartered in Woodcliff Lake, NJ, near Mercedes-Benz USA HQ in Montvale, NJ. Mercedes plans to move its operations to Atlanta beginning this summer, but BMW likes its current location.

“We have no plans to alter our location,” Willisch says. “We need the right talent and logistics here in New Jersey.”

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