BEIJING // The German luxury car maker BMW has announced plans to start exporting cars from China to the Middle East, possibly as soon as next month.
The company is hoping to export long-wheelbase versions of its 5 series model abroad, making it the first foreign luxury car producer to send vehicles from China.
The intention to export cars to the region was announced this week by Christoph Stark, the chief executive and president of BMW in China, ahead of the opening of a car show in Guangzhou in southern China.
"We will find some markets, maybe in the Middle East, somewhere in Asia, or some other markets that welcome the products where we can test this," he said in comments reported by Chinese state media. The exports of the 5 series Li version are likely to begin next month, reports said.
While many of the world's top car makers, including Volkswagen, Audi, Ford, General Motors, Mercedes and Hyundai, have set up plants in China through joint ventures with local partners, no premium brand has yet exported cars from China. The General Motors subsidiary Chevrolet recently became one of the first foreign car makers of any kind to export from China, sending its Sail model overseas.
When exporting, Chinese car brands have tended to focus on secondary markets such as Russia and other former Soviet states, Latin America and less-prosperous countries in the Middle East such as Egypt and Syria. Total car exports from China last year were 544,900.
BMW ranks second in China's luxury car market behind Audi, which has traditionally been the leader thanks to its domination of government luxury car procurement.
Yet the gap between the two companies is closing, with BMW having enjoyed 45 per cent sales growth in China in the first nine months of this year, selling 165,669 vehicles, while Audi sales reached 223,631, representing a more modest jump of 29 per cent.
China as a whole has been the world's biggest car market since 2009, when it overtook the US, with passenger car sales reaching 10.3 million. Last year, sales increased by a third to reach 13.8 million, while in the first 10 months of this year there was 5.9 per cent sales growth.
John Zeng, the Asian car-forecasting director for JD Power and Associates in Shanghai, said he was not surprised BMW was looking to export the long-wheelbase version of its 5 series, and possibly the long-wheelbase 3 series, from China to the Middle East. "The long-wheelbase versions of the 3 and 5 series will only be produced in China, and in the Middle East they prefer long-wheelbase versions. That's why BMW has to export from China," he said.
BMW produces cars in China through a joint venture with the Chinese car maker Brilliance.