Luxury Carmakers Scout for Big Spenders

APToyota unveiling its new Lexus LS 460 four-wheel-drive sedan at the Moscow International Auto Salon on Tuesday.
Champagne flowed and long-legged beauties did dance routines next to cars as luxury carmakers strove to show their commitment Tuesday to the Russian market, which became the biggest in Europe this summer.

"The luxury market hasn't grown as much in Europe -- Russia has more potential at this point," Tomoaki Nishitani, president of Toyota Russia, said at the opening of the Moscow International Auto Salon. Lexus, owned by Toyota, unveiled a new LS 460 four-wheel-drive sedan at the show.

"The premium sector in Russia is very competitive because the market is still young and opinion-building has not completed on brands," said BMW Russia president Christian Kremer, whose company launched its X5 Security, an armored SUV, at the car show.

While demand is growing for small luxury cars, Russians tend to associate luxury with big size, Kremer said. "It's linked to the tradition of the country: The country is big, everything is big, you even have the Bolshoi Theater," he said.

BMW hopes to increase sales by 33 percent to 19,000 cars this year.

Porsche said Russia was one of the few countries where the luxury car market was growing steadily. The Cayenne, a luxury SUV, makes up for 89 percent of Porsche sales in the country, said Porsche spokeswoman Oksana Khartonuk. "Russia is Cayenne country for the company," Khartonuk said. Porsche sales grew 20 percent in 2007. From a single dealership in 2003, the company is expected to have 24 by the end of 2009.

For Jaguar Land Rover, Russia is its third-biggest market, and Land Rover sales have doubled here this year already, said the company's Russia's director, Dmitry Kolchanov.

"The spirit of adventure, which is a big part of Land Rover brand, is part of that Russian soul," he said.