Mercedes looks to topple Audi from top position in 2015

India has reported sales of more than 10,000 units in the first three quarters of this year close to the number it sold in the whole of last year, and Roland S Folger, the company's new MD & CEO, said it will snatch the leadership position from compatriot Audi at 2015-end.

Folger, who took charge earlier this month, said the company is well on its way for posting record numbers this year as its new-generation models such as the CLA sedan and GLA mini SUV have received a strong response, while off-roaders are growing by over 70%. Sales in the January-September'15 have touched 10,079 units, a shade lower to the 10,201 units sold in 2014.

Volume leadership is as critical as having profitable operations, said Folger, who has worked for Mercedes' parent Daimler for more than three decades and came to India after heading the company's Malaysian operations.
The company had already moved past Audi in the first half of this year, and is now looking at a lead in the full-year numbers.

Recently , Audi India head Joe King said the company is confident of maintaining its lead in India. "As of mid-year, we are not ahead. But we are confident of being ahead by the end of the year. It's just a tiny number difference," King had told TOI in August.

However, the pressure on Audi is palpable as Mercedes closes in on the back of new models and expansion of retail network. At the close of 2014, Mercedes lagged Audi by 650 units.

Folger said Mercedes has been expanding the local production of models at its Pune facility, a move which has helped the company dodge the prohibitive cumulative import and other duties, which are near 180%. "Local assembly is part of our long-term strategy and we have been assembling a good number of models that we sell here, including the flagship Mercedes-Maybach that was added recently."

The Pune facility has a capacity to produce 20,000 cars annually, and models being made here include the C-, E and S-Class sedans and the M-, GLand GLA SUVs. Sales of luxury cars remained nearly flat last year, finishing the year at 33,000 units. The industry is expected to close the year at nearly 40,000 units on new models and growing confidence of buyers.

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