BMW’s US sales dip in 2016, but X models gain ground


BMW’s U.S. sales cooled in December, capping off a frosty year that saw the German automaker fail to increase its annual sales in this country for the first time since 2013.

But the combined sales of models produced in Spartanburg County — the X3, X4, X5 and X6 — remained hot and have buoyed the company’s hopes for a rebound in 2017.

BMW of North America LLC reported Wednesday it sold 37,493 vehicles in December, a 5.4 percent decrease compared with 39,634 during the previous year.

For the year, the company said it sold 365,204 vehicles, a 9.7 percent decrease compared with 404,537 during 2015.

Sales of the locally made X models, which the company refers to as its light trucks division, increased 5.2 percent in December to 12,416 vehicles, compared with 11,807 during the same month a year ago.

In 2016, the sale of X models made in Spartanburg increased 2.7 percent to 103,943 vehicles, compared with 101,256 during the prior year.

Ludwig Willisch, president and CEO of BMW of North America, said in a statement the company’s X models, which it calls its Sports Activity Vehicles, set a new benchmark in December.

Willisch said it was the first time that SAV sales comprised more than half of the monthly sales of the company’s BMW brand vehicles.

Those numbers included the popular X1 produced at BMW’s plant in Leipzig, Germany. The company considers the X1 to be an SAV, but not a light truck.

“December set a new record for our Sports Activity Vehicle sales in the U.S., exceeding 50 percent for the first time ever and firmly anchoring 2016 as the growth year for SAVs in the premium segment,” Willisch said in the statement. “The New Year brings optimism for the year ahead and now we’re looking forward to the Detroit Auto Show next week and the launch of our brilliant, all-new 5 Series.”

BMW North America spokesman Kenn Sparks said recently the company’s domestic business was negatively impacted by two factors in 2016.

The first was allocation challenges created by the increase in global demand for the SAVs produced at Spartanburg County-based BMW Manufacturing Co., despite the fact that the plant is producing a record number of vehicles.

The plant, which employs more than 8,000 people and exports about 70 percent of its vehicles to markets around the world via the Port of Charleston, was named the country’s top automotive exporter for 2015, with a total export value of $9.8 billion, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In August, BMW announced the plant received three J.D. Power awards, including the Initial Quality Study (IQS), Silver Plant in the Americas Region, and an IQS award for the best score in the midsize premium sports utility vehicle segment for the X5.

BMW Manufacturing Co. spokesman Steve Wilson said official production numbers for 2016 are anticipated in the coming days.

The second challenge was the lack of a full-size SAV to compete with the larger models produced by its competitors, including Mercedes, Lexus and Land Rover, Sparks said.

BMW hopes to address both challenges soon.

The company is nearing completion of a $1 billion expansion of the local plant that it hopes will increase production to about 450,000 vehicles and support production of the new full-size X7 within the next few years.

“Because of the expansion and additional investment in the Spartanburg plant, BMW will set a new worldwide record for SAV sales in 2016,” Sparks said.

Individually, the X models assembled in the Upstate had mixed results during December and for the year.

X3 sales increased 59.2 percent to 4,978 units during the past month, compared with 3,126 during the same month of 2015. For the year, sales of the X3 increased 38.4 percent to 44,196 units, compared with 31,924 during the previous year.

Sales of the X4, the coupe version of the X3, fell 54.9 percent to 399 units in December. X4 sales declined 22.4 percent for the year to 4,989 units, compared with 6,429 in 2015.

X5 sales decreased slightly during the month to 6,245 units, compared with 6,250 in December 2015. For the year, X5 sales decreased 13.4 percent to 47,641 units, compared with 54,997 during the previous year.

Sales of the X6, the coupe version of the X5, decreased 48.7 percent in December to 794 units, compared with 1,547 during the same month of the prior year. For 2016, X6 sales dropped 10 percent to 7,117 units, compared with 7,906 during 2015.

The company said its brand vehicle sales decreased 5.2 percent in December and 9.5 percent for the year.

Its MINI brand sales fell 7 percent during the past month and 11.1 percent for the whole of 2016.

BMW is expected to release its global sales in the coming days.

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