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BMW, Mercedes Vie for U.S. Sales Crown in Upbeat Premium Car Market

BMW, Mercedes Vie for U.S. Sales Crown in Upbeat Premium Car Market

By Philly Murtha, April 20, 2015

Premium, or luxury, cars, crossover utilities (CUVs), and SUVs continue to appeal to and gain traction with consumers in the U.S. car market, especially in an improving economy. More than one of every eight new vehicles purchased or leased in the first quarter of 2015 was from a premium nameplate.

Total sales for all 12 premium segments tracked by J.D. Power and LMC Automotive in the first 3 months of 2015 outpaced the industry's gains by a sufficient margin. Luxury model sales rose 8.5% from a year ago vs. the industry's gain of just 5.7%. Some 480,848 premium vehicles have been delivered to U.S. consumers so far this year, up by more than 37,400 units from the same period of 2014. Market share rose to 12.2% from 11.9% a year ago.

BMW, Mercedes Set the Pace among Luxury Brands
German luxury brands BMW and Mercedes-Benz continue to compete for sales dominance in the U.S. premium market. During the first 3 months of 2015, BMW led by a slim 336 unit sales with deliveries just shy of 78,500 units. Mercedes was not far behind, delivering nearly 78,160 units (excluding Sprinter commercial van sales).

Three of the 10 best-selling premium models in the United States during the first quarter wore a BMW badge. The sixth-generation 3 Series, slated to be redesigned for 2016, was the most popular entry-level luxury compact car with 21,033 deliveries, up from 17,968 units a year ago. Sales of BMW's 5 Series midsize premium sports sedan and X5 midsize premium CUV utility, redesigned for 2014, also increased. Each boasted sales of 11,700+ units this year.

Mercedes' C-Class compact premium car, honored at the recent New York International Auto Show (NYIAS) as World Car of the Year, was the second-best-selling premium model in the first quarter with sales of 20,943 units. Mercedes also had three models that ranked among the top 20 in sales volume--the M-Class/GLE midsize premium SUV; E-Class midsize premium car; and CLA-Class small premium car.

Lexus Poised to Challenge German Rivals for Luxury Leadership
Lexus continued to be a significant player in the U.S. luxury car market in the first quarter and was the second-best-selling premium brand in March, although it ranked third through the first 3 months of 2015, with sales of 77,180 units--1,276 units behind Mercedes-Benz.

Lexus sales soared 18.6% from the first quarter in 2014, with help from the RX-Series midsize premium CUV utility. With a redesigned model on tap for 2016, the RX-Series was the third-best-selling premium model. Three other Lexus models in the luxury top 20 were: the ES-Series midsize and IS-Series compact premium cars; plus the all-new compact premium NX-Series, based on the Toyota RAV4 platform.

Audi, part of Europe's largest automaker, the Volkswagen Group, ranked as the fourth-highest volume premium brand in the first quarter of 2015 with deliveries of nearly 41,000 units--up nearly 14% from a year ago. Audi's Q5 crossover utility, which ranked highest in the Compact Premium SUV segment in the J.D. Power 2014 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study,SM was the seventh-best seller. Audi's redesigned compact premium A3 also made the top 20.

Rounding out the top five premium brands in first-quarter sales was Acura, with sales of 39,644 units, up 4.5% from a year ago. The MDX midsize premium CUV, redesigned for 2014, ranked fourth in volume among individual models, while the RDX compact premium utility ranked number nine. Acura's TLX midsize luxury sport sedan, redesigned this year and a replacement for the TL and TSX, also was among the top-20 volume sellers.

Infiniti, Cadillac, and Lincoln held spots six through eight, respectively, among the best-selling premium nameplates. However, Infiniti was the only one of the three to post a gain--sales rose 8.4% for the first quarter. The Q50 compact premium car and QX60 midsize premium crossover utility earned places in the luxury top 20.

General Motors' Cadillac, which is launching new models in 2015, posted the sharpest sales loss--deliveries fell 37% from a year ago, to 24,881 units. The SRX compact utility still ranks as the sixth-best-selling premium model, with sales of 14,903 units.

Ford's Lincoln brand had only one model among the 20 best-sellers this year--the MKZ compact premium car--with 6,506 unit sales in 2015. Lincoln sales were off a slight 0.6% from the first quarter of 2014.

Ninth-ranked Land Rover's sales jumped nearly 30% with deliveries of 17,000 units through March. The British SUV brand, owned by India's Tata Motors, posted major year-to-date increases for its Range Rover large premium and Range Rover Sport midsize premium utilities.

Among premium niche players, Volkswagen's Porsche nameplate posted a double-digit percentage gain bolstered by incremental sales from the new Macan compact premium CUV utility, while Volvo, owned by China's Geely Group, reported stable sales in 2015. Specialty brand Tesla retailed 160 more Model S midsize premium cars in the first 3 months, matching Jaguar's first-quarter deliveries of 4,336 units.

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