I didn’t fly straight to Detroit for the auto show but, instead, bounced through New York (almost literally: I spent around five minutes on NY pavements) to see sales presentations by three of VW Group’s brands.
First off, in the obligatory converted lower Manhattan industrial building, was Lamborghini. 2012 was good to the brand. It shifted 2083 cars around the world, up 30 per cent on last year’s total of 1602. European sales were up 34 per cent at 608 units and US sales up around 50 per cent at 562 units.
Lambo boss Stephan Winklemann told us the Gallardo has become the company’s all-time best-seller, with a total of 13,000 being sold so far and 1162 in 2012 alone. An amazing 922 Aventadors were in 2012 and the car is sold out for 2013.
All of which is good going in a market niche that’s well down. What Lambo calls the global ‘super sportscar market’ saw sales of 35,600 cars in 2007 and bottomed out at 20,200 units during the global crunch. However, despite the the total car market recovering well, this niche only hit 25,000 units in 2012. Much of the blame lies with Europe, which saw ‘super sports car’ sales of 15,400 in 2007 dwindling down to around 8600 in 2012.
Winklemann remains cautious about the prospects for the niche because it is so sensitive to the prevailing ‘mood’. Indeed, sales in the company’s Italian home market remain down 50 per cent because of the recent crackdown on tax avoidance. Some supercar owners were rumoured to have been investigated by Italian tax authorities.
Winklemann also revealed the highly attractive Urus SUV concept was never intended to go on sale before 2017, even if it does finally get the green light. Because "the VW Group has to decide where to put its money" a final decision will be made by the end of 2013.
A short hop on a coach took us to Manhattan’s car dealer district were the new flagship Volkswagen and Audi dealerships sit opposite Mini, BMW and others. Volkswagen, not so long ago nearly non-existent in the US, is delighted with 2012’s results. Sales hit 438,000 units, up sharply from 258,000 in 2010. 39 per cent of those sales are of the Jetta saloon and 29 per cent the Passat. The Golf GTI and Golf R - the only two Golf models sold in the US - account for just 9 per cent of sales.
Next door at Audi’s glossy showroom, there was more good news, but from a rather lower base. 140,000 Audis found homes in 2012, up from 120,000 last year and just 80,000 in 2003. The biggest seller is the A4 followed closely by the Q5.
I pointed out to Audi’s cheerleader that Audi UK managed to sell around 123,000 cars in a new car market of two million vehicles, while Audi’s US arm managed just 140,000 in a new car market of 14.4m vehicles. It seems a remarkable contrast. The cheerleader assured me that Audi was competing in the US’s ‘upper import segment’ - which includes Mercedes, Infiniti and Lexus - and that segment accounted for just 1.4m cars per year.
However, with Audi shifting 1.455m cars globally in 2012, it shows just how much room there is for improvement in the important US market.