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German luxury giants see huge potential in Detroit Auto Show

German luxury carmakers - including Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, and Porsche - are eyeing large gains at the Detroit Auto Show. For now, the US is their largest foreign market.

Journalists gather around a red car in Detroit

Oohs, aahs and a lot of cars this week in Detroit

From the presentations going on this week at the Detroit Auto Show, it's not hard to realize why Americans love German luxury cars, especially models from premium manufacturers like Mercedes, Audi, and BMW.

This year, even Porsche, which has been absent for the past four years, made the trip to Detroit.

Volkswagen Passat

From VW: the new Passat with more room and comfort

Porsche CEO Matthias Müller explained to Deutsche Welle after the presentation of the 918 RSR - a hybrid race car with an eight cylinder engine and two additional electric motors - that the US market was an important part of Porsche's projected 2011 success.

"We sold 25,000 cars here last year, and if our numbers are correct, we will sell even more in 2011.

The North American market is not only important for Porsche, however; there are a host of other German manufacturers eager to profit from the world's largest automobile market.

Matthias Wissmann, president of Germany's national car industry association, says 2011 could be a record-setting year for sales of German cars in the US, with an 11 percent increase being forecast.

"Almost every American who is interested in cars wants a Porsche, Audi, Mercedes, or BMW. And more and more, they are actually buying these more expensive cars. The demand for German cars in the USA remains unprecedented worldwide."

The new, more "American" Passat

One German carmaker Wissmann forgot to include in his list of America's favorites is Volkswagen, or VW, which has had a less pronounced presence on American roads in recent years.

This was not the case in the 70s and 80s, quite the contrary, with the dominance of models like the VW Beetle. The world's third largest carmaker is now hoping for a return of that success and a rejuvenation of US sales.

In Detroit, VW is unveiling a new Passat Sedan designed specifically for American consumers: it's a bit larger, with fewer features, and less expensive than the German original.

Colbie Caillat

From Mercedes: a concert performed by Colbie Caillat

For, in the end, CEO Martin Winterkorn told Deutsche Welle that to be successful in the US one must cater to the wants of the American driver.

"We know from our surveys that Americans love 'German engineering' and precision, and comfort, and we took that it into account with our new Passat. And we are convinced that this will lead to more Americans buying Volkswagen."

Chinese growth will dwarf US

The popular US singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat helped Mercedes Benz present the new C-class series with a concert sung in a glittery silver dress.

The new Audi A6 Hybrid

From Audi: the new A6 Hybrid

And the show fit the company image: the Mercedes star is the most popular symbol when it comes to German luxury brands in the US. In 2010, 225,000 Americans purchased a Daimler model, representing a near 20 percent increase compared to 2009.

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche told Deutsche Welle that the US market was crucial for his company's global success, even if it would be surpassed by another, emerging superpower.

"At present, we sell more cars in the US than in any other export country, including the Chinese-Asian market. We believe, however, that the Chinese market is growing faster than the American market, which means very well that that might change. But right now, behind Germany, our largest market is in the United States."

Audi eyeing energy efficiency

And that's a market that has very different demands than one finds in Germany, especially with regard to energy consumption. Despite rising environmental concerns, electric cars and hybrid models are still a negligible part of the US market.

Nevertheless, Audi has brought its brand-new A6 hybrid and other energy efficient models to Detroit. CEO Rupert Stadler explains:

"The Americans love big cars, as they always have. However, big cars are not necessarily inefficient, and that is precisely what we are trying to demonstrate this week."

Stadler also referred to the new Q7, which can be equipped with either a standard gas or diesel engine.

"With the Q7, we give Americans the option of utilizing a diesel engine. So far, we are seeing around 30 percent of US consumers prefer diesel, which is quite a success."

Author: Christina Bergmann, Detroit (glb)
Editor: Michael Lawton

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