People add luxury cars, but not motorcycles

FRANKFURT, Germany -- Luxury automakers BMW, Audi and Mercedes reported healthy sales increases for August on Friday, but Harley-Davidson lowered earnings expectations for the because of a "difficult time for the U.S. consumer," Chief Executive Jim Ziemer said.

• BMW, the industry's top luxury car company, said its global sales rose 13% last month from a year ago, with 99,755 BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce automobiles sold.

The automaker said its August sales were led by demand from U.S. buyers, where it sold 30,638 cars, up 19.3% from a year ago. German sales rose 10.8% to 19,253 cars.

For the January-August period, BMW said sales were up 7.1% to 952,929 vehicles sold compared with the same period last year.

• Audi said it sold 66,400 cars worldwide in August, up 4.2%. Audi, a unit of Volkswagen, said it sold about 656,600 cars for the first eight months of the year, up 9.2%.

The August increases came from higher demand in China, where sales rose 24%, while in the United States, sales increased 7.1%. Sales in Britain were up 17.8% while overall growth in Europe was 3.7%.

"Growth in European export markets, meaning both established Western European markets and new markets in Eastern Europe, is a major factor behind our success," said Ralph Weyler, who oversees the company's marketing and sales. "We are steadily and consistently increasing our market share in these regions."

Sales in Germany, Audi's home market, slipped 7.7% last month to 18,063 cars sold. Joerg Felske, Audi's head of sales for Germany, said that decline was the result of the end of production on the company's A4 model.

• DaimlerChrysler said its Mercedes Car Group saw sales increase 9% in August, reaching a record 96,200 Mercedes-Benz, Maybach and Smart brands sold.

But the results could not lift its January-August sales, which slipped to 817,600 from 818,200 a year earlier.

By brand, the group said it sold 89,100 Mercedes-Benz cars in August, up 9%, led by demand for its new C-Class sedan and its luxury segment S-Class.

Sales of the retooled Smart fortwo doubled to 7,000 cars, a new monthly high for the two-seater, and up 4%.

Demand for Mercedes Car Group vehicles was strong in Asia, where sales rose 22% in August, while in the United States sales edged up 2%. The company's core western European market saw sales rise 4% to 52,700 cars.

• Dealer sales of Harley-Davidson hog motorcycles fell sharply in August and the iconic motorcycle maker said it would cut shipments to those dealers for the remainder of the year.

"Against the current economic background, we no longer expect worldwide dealer retail sales to increase during the second half of 2007," Ziemer said in a news release.

Harley-Davidson said it anticipates 2007 net income to drop 4% to 6% to a range of $3.69 to $3.77 a share. The company reported a 2006 profit of $3.93 a share.

Analysts polled by Thomson Financial have predicted earnings of $4.12 a share.

Harley-Davidson said it is lowering its planned third-quarter shipments of 86,000 to 88,000 units from its prior estimate for shipments in a range of 91,000 to 95,000 units. Full-year shipments are expected to be 328,000 to 332,000 units, down from 349,196 units last year.

The company now expects 2008 earnings growth of 4% to 7% on moderate revenue growth and lower operating margins. It previously forecast earnings growth of 11% to 17% for 2008 as well as 2009.

The company said it was not providing a 2009 guidance at this time.

Harley-Davidson held a sales promotion in July that helped clear some of the 2007 stock, Ziemer said, but sales in August fell sharply. Conditions do not look like they will improve worldwide for the rest of the year, he said, and expectations are that 2008 will be "challenging" as well.

A growing share of Harley-Davidson sales are made overseas, but most of its motorcycles are still bought in the United States.

The company sent 28% of its stock overseas in 2006. In the first half of this year, that number was up to nearly 40% of all shipments.

"While a decision to reduce shipments and expectations is never easy, it is clearly the right thing to do for the long-term health of the brand and the business," Ziemer said.