) -- At the Detroit Auto Show,
asked the top U.S. executives from three luxury automakers to talk about the new cars they're most focused on.
Jim O'Donnell, CEO of BMW North America, said the automaker's new 650i convertible (pictured above) is so alluring that he
plans to buy one for himself, rather than just driving a company car. "For ten years I have taken a car from stock," O'Donnell said, in an interview. "This year I've ordered one."
At the auto show, BMW had the world premier of the 6-Series convertible. "We do about 60% of the world volume for that car in the U.S.," O'Donnell said. The car, which will be available to consumers in May, will cost about $80,000. "I can see people, because of the depression in the economy the past few years, spoiling themselves," he said.
BMW finished second in the luxury car segment in 2010, behind
Lexus but ahead of Mercedes.
O'Donnell said BMW expects to compete with Lexus for first place this year. A second tier includes
Cadillac as well as Infiniti, Acura and Audi. "They fight more among themselves. The mid-luxury (segment) takes customers from the volume (segment) and we take customers from them," said O'Donnell.
2012 Mercedes-Benz S350 Diesel
Mercedes-Benz introduced a new diesel version of its S-Class sedans. The new S350 Bluetec "is top of the line, a new edition, the first diesel in the S class since 1996," said Ernst Lieb, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, in an interview. "The S-class today has a V-8 as well as a hybrid available (in the U.S.) and this will be the first diesel, coming in August or September."
Reminded that Mercedes finished third in the luxury car segment in 2010, Lieb said: "Where do you draw the line? Is a car below $30,000 still luxury just because it has a certain symbol?
"I draw the line at about $40,000," he said. "Mercedes-Benz is No. 1 in this market. Quality is improving and our customer satisfaction is improving. We're in a very good position to see, hopefully, good growth in 2011."
Like everybody else at the 2011 auto show, Lieb assured the mood has shifted. "Two years ago was the worst," he said. "It was really down. Nobody was really sure we were going to come back here again. (But now) you can feel a sense of optimism."
Bentley GT Convertible
The Bentley GT convertible is not for everybody. It costs about $189,000.
Christophe Georges, president of Bentley Motors of the Americas, said the car is "a great combination of luxury, craftsmanship and comfort (that) has created a new market segment."
In this segment, he said, "we are not only competing with some of the luxury brands, but with some of the luxury goods -- it could be an object of art, it could be a boat. You don't buy everything at the same time. It's a question of having the dream and having the desire to buy a luxury good at one point of time. It could be one or the other."
The U.S. remains Bentley's best market, followed by China and, third, the U.K. In the U.S., Georges said, Bentley sales were up by 4.3% in 2010, including a 20% jump in the fourth quarter, and the 2011
outlook is good.
-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.
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