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BMW widens sales of luxury cars in U.S.

Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s BMW brand outsold Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz last month, expanding its lead as the top-selling luxury auto brand in the U.S. so far this year.

BMW’s U.S. sales, helped by deliveries of the new 5 Series sedan and sport-utility vehicles, rose 13 percent last month to 21,637 compared with a year earlier, the Munich-based automaker said yesterday in a statement.

Mercedes sales rose 13 percent to 20,652 in June while deliveries by Toyota Motor Corp. (7203)’s Lexus fell 38 percent to 10,773, as the Japanese make lacked inventory following the March 11 earthquake that disrupted manufacturing.

After six months of sales, BMW looks poised to outsell Lexus in the U.S. for a calendar year for the first time since 1997. BMW’s sales through June rose 13 percent to 113,705. Deliveries of Stuttgart, Germany-based Mercedes vehicles rose 7 percent to 110,926 in the U.S. while Lexus’s fell 18 percent to 88,010. Lexus has been the top-selling luxury auto brand in the U.S. on an annual basis for the past 11 years.

“They’re too far behind now to catch up,” Jim O’Donnell, head of BMW’s U.S. operations, said Friday of Lexus in a telephone interview.

Last year, Toyota finished 9,216 sales ahead of BMW to be the top selling luxury brand in the U.S. for the 11th straight year. Mercedes finished in third place. The results exclude Daimler’s Sprinter vans and Smart cars and BMW’s Mini brand, which aren’t luxury vehicles.

Cars are seen on BMW’s indoor test track at the Frankfurt International Motor Show in Germany, 2009.  (Bloomberg)
Cars are seen on BMW’s indoor test track at the Frankfurt International Motor Show in Germany, 2009.  (Bloomberg)

German duel

The German brands have duked it out for years in the U.S. market. BMW has outsold Mercedes since 2001. The narrowest lead came in 1997 when BMW delivered 202 more vehicles than Mercedes did, according to researcher Autodata Corp.

“There is very good momentum” for BMW, said Jesse Toprak, an industry analyst with, a Santa Monica, California-based website that tracks automotive sales. “I don’t know if Benz will be able to catch up.”

O’Donnell expects the brand’s sales to increase 12.5 percent this year, helped by a redesigned 5 Series sedan and X3 sport-utility vehicle, he said.

BMW’s sales in the second half of the year will benefit from the introduction of another all-wheel-drive version of the 5 Series, the 528i xDrive, he said.

“That used to account for 25 percent of our 5 Series sales, so that will be a big lift for us in the last quarter,” O’Donnell said.

New Mercedes

Mercedes deliveries last month were helped by the redesigned E-Class, sales of which rose 19 percent, and M-Class, up 45 percent, the company said.

An updated version of the C-Class will be introduced in September further boosting sales, Ernst Lieb, head of Mercedes’ U.S. unit, said yesterday in a telephone interview.

“We get full availability really in the last quarter and we think it’s going to be really good sales for us,” he said.

General Motors Co.’s Cadillac luxury brand sales fell 7.9 percent last month to 10,860, according to the Detroit based automaker. It was the second time this year that more Cadillacs were sold in the U.S. than Lexus vehicles.

BMW and Mercedes will probably be aggressive with incentives in coming months, Kurt McNeil, Cadillac’s vice president of sales, said.

“They’ll get real creative,” he said yesterday in a telephone interview.

Lacking adventure

Beyond Toyota’s production problems, Lexus may be struggling to attract affluent shoppers whose tastes have shifted following the recession toward brands that express creativity and originality, said Andrew Sacks, president of the Affluence Collaborative, a market-research firm based in New York City.

Lexus “is very middle of the road, it’s kind of bland, it’s safe,” he said yesterday in a telephone interview. “It’s still hard to justify what’s still a good bit of money that’s not a thrilling adventure.”

U.S. deliveries of Volkswagen AG’s Audi brand rose 17 percent to 10,051 vehicles last month, the Wolfsburg, Germany- based company said in a statement.

Porsche SE, the Stuttgart-based automaker merging with Volkswagen, sold 2,546 vehicles in the U.S., a 19 percent increase, the company said on Friday in an e-mail.

Nissan Motor Co.’s Infiniti sold almost 6,300 vehicles, a 24 percent decline from a year earlier, the Yokohama, Japan- based company said in a statement.

Honda Motor Co., based in Tokyo, said in a statement that sales for its Acura brand fell 20 percent to 8,708 last month.

Ford Motor Co. sold 7,361 Lincoln luxury vehicles in June, a 17 percent increase from a year earlier, according to a statement from the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker.

Land Rover deliveries rose 13 percent to 3,152, while Jaguar sales fell 14 percent to 1,389, Mumbai-based Tata Motors Ltd. said in an e-mailed statement.


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