by Katherine Harbin
DETROIT, the United States, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- Though the global economy is struggling for a full recovery, many luxury automakers at the North American International Auto Show here told reporters their sales had never been better and they were expecting a double-digit growth for 2013.
While the eurozone is still battling economic difficulties and the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis is still felt in the U.S., wealthy car buyers have not disappeared from the market. In fact, they are snapping up the latest models at a fierce pace.
BMW, manufacturer of what it calls "Ultimate Driving Machines," told reporters that 2012 was their best sales year ever, when the German automaker sold a record 1.85 million cars across its BMW and Mini brands, up 11 percent year-over-year.
Of that total, American customers bought more than 347,000 cars, proving that the United States remains a crucial market for the company. BMW claimed the top spot in the U.S. luxury car market for the second year in a row.
Ingo Lasslob, manager for the brand's new BMW 4-Series, told Xinhua that one of the automaker's main strengths was its brand stability across regions.
"What's really important for us is this is a very balanced result, so we have very strong performance in Europe, in the U.S., and of course also in China, which is a very important market for us here at BMW."
Christian Bangemann, head of Communications for Product and Technology at fellow premium German automaker Audi, called China "the most important single market for Audi."
In an interview with Xinhua, Bangemann said that Audi sold about 300,000 cars per year in China, and that the company produced models like the A4 long-wheelbase and A6 long-wheelbase specifically for the Chinese market.
"We hope and we see a nice growing market in China, and we want to sell more cars there, and we will bring new models to China," Bangemann said, adding that 2013 would bring a new derivative of the Audi A3 to China.
Audi also had an extremely successful year in the United States, with year-over-year sales jumping a whopping 18.9 percent in 2012. That was Audi's seventh straight year of growth in the United States, with a total of 140,000 cars sold last year.
Compared with Audi and BMW numbers, 2012 U.S. sales for luxury British carmaker Bentley Motors might at first appear lackluster, with a total of 2,315 cars sold. However, prices for Bentley vehicles are usually more than double those of the German automakers' offerings, lending considerable weight to Bentley's 2012 numbers.
Bentley Motors Director of Operations for the Americas Kim Airey said the United States is currently the automaker's largest market, but that China remained close behind with 2,253 cars sold in 2012. Both markets saw year-over-year sales increases of 23 percent, and Airey said the company expected the double-digit growth to continue in 2013.
Given its strong American base, it is perhaps no surprise that Bentley chose the North American International Auto Show to premiere its flashy new Continental GT Speed Convertible, which commands a staggering 616 horsepower.
Standing beside the bright, baby blue sports car, Airey told Xinhua "the car brings all of the iconic design that you've seen in the first generation of the vehicle, but we've increased the horsepower, we've lowered the suspension -- we think we've created a package that is the pinnacle of convertible brand touring with exquisite luxury."
Luxury it is, as Bentley vehicles often come with a price tag of over 200,000 U.S. dollars.
Sales of Germany's Mercedes-Benz vehicles and its Smart brand topped 1.4 million vehicles internationally, with 270,000 vehicles sold in the United States alone.
Global year-over-year growth for the Britain's Jaguar Land Rover increased 30 percent in 2012, with Chinese growth in particular topping a massive 70 percent.
And in addition to unveiling its powerful new Quattroporte luxury sedan, Italian automaker Maserati announced they would be expanding global production to more than 50,000 cars in 2015. Maserati units numbered 6,300 in 2012.
While most consumers may be unable to afford the steep prices of the latest luxury vehicles, they can view them at the Detroit international auto show on Jan. 19-27 when it is open to the public. Visitors can also sit in the driver's seat and have their friend take a picture, though they can not test-drive the cars.