While acknowledging that the Chinese car market is slowing, BMW board member Ian Robertson has told just-auto that he sees positive prospects there for premium brands and BMW in particular.

“We are still seeing very strong growth in China,” Robertson said. “Sales this year are up 35% and demand for our products remains high.”

Speaking on the sidelines of an annual BMW media event at the company’s flagship London Park Lane showroom, Robertson noted that in the first ten months of the year, some 264,884 BMW and MINI vehicles have been sold in mainland China, 35.2% ahead of last year. BMW Group’s mainland China sales in October reached 27,828 units, 51.7%  up on last year. 

“We’ve got strong sales of the locally-produced BMW X1 and the BMW 3 and 5 Series Long Wheelbase [for China] variants,” Robertson said. “Our second factory in China is being kept very busy.” 

The importance of the Chinese market to BMW – in terms of volume and profitability – is underlined by the fact that China now accounts for half of all its 7-Series sales.

But Robertson acknowledged that a slowdown to the Chinese car market is coming. 

“The Chinese vehicle market has grown very rapidly in a short period of time,” Robertson said. “We’re now seeing it normalising – it cannot continue to grow at the kind of rates we have been seeing in recent years. This is a natural development.”

However, Robertson maintains that premium brands are relatively well positioned to weather the changing market conditions.

“The mass market brands are being hit more by slowing demand. There is an emerging middle-class in China that is being drawn to premium brands and that will continue to be the case in our view. It will support BMW sales in the future even as the economy slows down a little,” he says.  

Robertson also sees positive prospects for electrified models in China. BMW recently confirmed that it will introduce a plug-in hybrid variant of the long wheelbase 5-Series for the Chinese market.

“The regulatory environment will increasingly favour zero emission vehicles and hybrids in China,” he said. “The Chinese government is very actively joining the dots to ensure that all the relevant institutions, research activities and companies are coming together, with appropriate incentives in place, to develop a viable electric car sector. They could be looking to leapfrog others and develop globally competitive capabilities in this area.”

Earlier this year, BMW confirmed that it is currently developing so-called ‘new energy’ vehicles – plug-in hybrids and EVs – with its JV partner Brilliance Automobile Holdings. 

See also: CHINA: BMW may build EVs in Shenyang