BMW's Japan unit expects solid sales growth in 2002, helped by a focus on luxury cars which it said would help it buck a sluggish car market, according to Reuters.

New BMW Japan Corporation president Ludwig Willisch told a news conference he expected sales of BMW brand vehicles to rise to 38,000-40,000 in 2002, Reuters said.

Japanese BMW sales remained virtually unchanged in 2001 from the previous year at 36,253 vehicles and sales of the new Mini brand small car will likely come in at 9,000-10,000 in 2002, Reuters reported Willisch as saying.

Reuters said that many vehicle indutry analysts are forecasting difficult times ahead for the Japanese car market with some forecasting that vehicle sales could fall to mid-1980s levels.

However, Willisch said BMW aimed to buck that trend, Reuters reported.

"Through our premium-brand strategy, we have been able to run a different market rather than being reliant on the overall demand of cars," Willisch said, according to Reuters. He took over BWM Japan at the beginning of this year.

"You also far as consumer goods are concerned, there are companies that can do their business without having to be too reliant on the overall economic situation...and I think that basically applies to the importer market in Japan," Willisch told Reuters.

He added that a model mix in a state of flux and a significant downturn in Japan's passenger car market in the fourth quarter of 2001 had partly helped keep BMW sales in check.

The German company ranks third among foreign car makers by sales in Japan behind Volkswagen and DaimlerChrysler AG unit Mercedes-Benz, Reuters said.