The race to be the year’s top-selling luxury automobile brand in the US narrowed as Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s namesake line both gained ground on Toyota Motor’s Lexus.
“Lexus has been by far the luxury leader in this market and now Mercedes and BMW have closed that gap pretty rapidly,” Joe Barker, an industry analyst with IHS Automotive, a Lexington, Massachusetts-based researcher, said before the release. “The sales race will come down to the wire — it will come down right to the month of December.”
Sales of Mercedes brand cars and sport-utility vehicles rose 17 per cent to 19,862 as deliveries of its E-Class sedan continued to propel the brand, Stuttgart, Germany-based Daimler said in a statement. The results ended a three-month win streak for BMW and halved Lexus’ lead for the year.
“We’re going to continue in the same direction as we have for the first nine months,” Ernst Lieb, chief executive officer of Mercedes-Benz USA, said in an interview yesterday. “Will it be necessarily again another 22 per cent up or so? Maybe not, but we definitely see a two-digit increase for the remainder of the year.”
BMW’s namesake brand’s deliveries rose 21 per cent to 18,228 from last September, the Munich-based company said yesterday in a statement.
Lexus sales fell 6 per cent last month to 16,948, as a 21 per cent gain for the ES model was offset by a 27 per cent decline in IS deliveries.
Toyota, working to recover from record recalls, has sold 162,438 luxury cars and SUVs in the first nine months of this year, a 9.2 increase over last year, the Toyota City, Japan-based company said in a statement. The result maintained a narrowing lead for the brand that has led the segment since 2000.
“It’s been a challenging year for the whole industry,” Brian Smith, US vice president of Lexus brand sales, said in a conference call yesterday. “We feel real good about where we are this year. I don’t think we’re going to lose leadership this year, but time will tell.”
Mercedes sales rose 18 per cent to 159,729 so far this year, while BMW deliveries are up 9.2 per cent to 157,464. These results don’t include sales of Mercedes’ Sprinter vans and Smart cars or BMW’s Mini brand.
BMW sales are being held back by low inventory of the X3 SUV until a new version reaches showrooms late this year, Jim O’Donnell, president of BMW’s North American unit, said in a September 8 interview. The auto maker is also still introducing models in its popular 5-Series line.
“Those two things will hold back our sales in that race. I think Lexus, in particular, will probably end the year No. 1,” he said. “We never thought we’d be as close to them.”
Even with those challenges, BMW’s monthly sales in June, July and August topped Mercedes and Lexus, according to the company’s stated results.
Luxury car buyers who waited for more improvement in the economy are returning, said Barker, who is based in Northville, Michigan.
“Now they feel a bit more secure as the stock market has stabilized and grown a little bit and as they start to rebuild their retirement funds,” Barker said. “They feel the worst is over for them and they are getting back into the luxury car market.”
Deliveries at General Motors’s luxury division, Cadillac, gained 11 per cent from last year to 12,620 as sales of the redesigned SRX sport-utility vehicle grew by 40 per cent.
Ford Motor sold 7,510 of its Lincoln luxury vehicles in September, a 26 per cent increase from a year earlier, the company said in a statement. Lincoln was helped by a 76 per cent increase in MKX sales.
Volvo, which Ford sold to China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., reported a sales decline of 12 per cent to 4,152.
Honda Motor’s Acura sales rose 48 per cent to 10,720 in September, the company said in a statement.
US deliveries of Volkswagen AG’s Audi brand rose 13 per cent to 8,151 vehicles. That topped Audi’s previous September sales record from 2007, the company said in a statement.
Porsche SE, which is merging with Volkswagen, reported a 25 per cent sales increase to 1,971 vehicles.