Most vehicle manufacturers rely heavily on fleet sales, but German market data published today shows that BMW and Audi manufacturers are most reliant of all on fleets.

According to auto motor und sport magazine, Audi and BMW have the fewest private customers of all brands in Germany. Just 33.5% of Audi sales in Germany in 2006 went to private customers, a slight increase from 33.2% a year earlier.

Just 32.8% of BMW’s customers were private individuals in Germany in 2006, down from 33.2% a year earlier.

Mercedes had the highest proportion of private customers at 50.1% (up from 47.5% a year earlier). Mercedes beat VW (with 47.5% private customers) and Ford (41%), as well as Opel (39%).

Opel increased the number of private customers from 32.3% a year earlier, while the Ford figure of 41% was down from 46.4% in 2005.

Dependence on fleet sales is a problem for vehicle manufacturers because fleets command high discounts.

According to the magazine the Ford Focus is currently being sold to fleets at a discount of around 28%, while the Passat is being discounted by around 17%. Some models such as the Renault Laguna and Ford Mondeo are being discounted by more than 30% in Germany.

“When discounts reach 30% the manufacturer is not making money – it is just keeping its plants running,” said the sales director of one importer. He added that it is difficult even to achieve price increases with new models.