Product, product and more product is the way to maintain your position at the head of the premium sector, said Jim O'Donnell after a moment to reflect on the question of how to stay at No 1.

This year, the only mainstream model which will not be updated, altered, changed or replaced is the 7 series.

New models for 2007 include 3 series coupe cabriolet, three door version of the 1 series, 3 series coupe, X5, M5 Touring and M3. There will be 'lifecycle changes' - mid-term facelifts - for 5 series, both external and internal, 1 series, 6 series and X3. There are also additional engines for 3 series coupe.

BMW sold 116,000 cars in the UK in 2006. "This year we will sell 125,000 and stay at No 1 ahead of Audi and Mercedes-Benz. Audi outsold us in the first quarter, not for the first time, but they are sprinters and we are in it for the long run. Audi were out of the traps fast with good offers on A3 and run out of A4.

"I suspect Audi will end up selling just under 100,000 units and be second ahead of Mercedes-Benz." O'Donnell is puzzled by Mercedes' slide. "In 2003 they were neck and neck with us; last year they sold 34,000 fewer cars than us."

BMW sells fewer 3, 5 and 7 series today than it did 10 years ago so all the growth has come from new models like the X series.

About 60 per cent of BMW customers buy another BMW - a higher-than-average loyalty rate - so "the easiest thing is to sell new product to existing customers; the hardest part has been attracting new customers to the brand but we are making progress there. "

A year ago only 23 per cent of dealers were taking all the contact details from a potential customer - someone who had popped into a showroom to inquire about a new or used car - and followed up within 72 hours.

"Today that figure stands at 90 per cent and dealer staff are following up inquiries within 24 hours," said O'Donnell.

There was some resistance to this from dealers who though it was too pushy. "The problem was that leaving a follow-up for 72 hours was too long and customers thought the dealer wasn't interested in them," said O'Donnell.

The change "has worked a treat and hopefully we will start to win more retail customers as a result." O'Donnell acknowledges that one of the problems for dealers is staff recruitment. "It's a nightmare with high staff turnover. As an industry we have to put a lot more effort into staff recruitment, training and keeping them happy. It's not the easiest job in the world with long hours and weekend working but I can't think of a better job where you can really work your way up from the bottom to the top.

"If my 13-year-old son decided to go into the business I would admire him and I would be really happy. If you're good, you'll get well looked after by the car companies."

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