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Will Mercedes Hold onto Luxury Sales Lead?

Will Mercedes Hold onto Luxury Sales Lead?

By Jeff Youngs, October 09, 2012
Mercedes-Benz and BMW brands have traded places this year as the leading nameplate in the luxury vehicle segment sales race. Last year, BMW wore the sales crown. Through the first nine months of 2012, Mercedes-Benz remains the U.S. luxury sales leader, based on J.D. Power research data.*

Lexus, which was the perennial top-selling luxury brand in the United States for more than a decade, ranks third this year as it rebuilds inventory. Last year, Lexus suffered shortages of some models at its U.S. dealerships due to production setbacks following the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in Japan on March 11.

Redesigns of many models in the Lexus lineup may help the Toyota brand catch up this year and close the sales gap with its two premium German rivals. A new Lexus flagship LS large premium conventional sedan will reach showrooms in November. The brand also has introduced redesigned versions of its GS midsize premium conventional car and ES compact premium conventional car. The current ES and LS models were the highest-ranked models in their segments in the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 U.S. Initial Quality Study.SM A refresh of the Lexus best-selling RX Series midsize premium crossover (CUV) should boost sales, too.

A few more luxury highlights after the first 9 months are featured:

  • Through September, Mercedes-Benz (without the Sprinter van) is ahead of BMW by 5,221 units and also outpaces Lexus by 20,628 unit sales.
  • Mercedes offers more than a dozen models--the broadest lineup among the eight top-selling premium brands in the United States. The German brand's C-Class compact premium conventional car, refreshed for 2012, is Mercedes' best-selling model and is the second-best-selling luxury model in the U.S. market. Powered by a new turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, the C-Class is one of the brand's more fuel-efficient entries.
  • BMW ranks second in the luxury sales category this year, although its 3 Series compact premium conventional model, which was redesigned for 2012, remains the best-selling luxury model in the U.S. market. Through the first 9 months, 68,352 of the 3 Series models have been delivered. The 3 Series also ranks as one of the three most appealing models in J.D. Power's 2012 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.
  • Lexus may rank No. 3 in sales this year, but continues to gain strength, and was the top-selling premium brand in August. Although ranking third in September, the Toyota luxury brand sold one-third more units than in September last year. The Lexus RX Series, which ranked highest in its segment in the 2012 Initial Quality Study, remains the best-selling midsize premium crossover (CUV) in the United States. In addition, the RX Series is the third-best-selling premium model through the first 9 months of 2012.
  • There is good news for Acura, which ranks fourth in the luxury sales volume race--deliveries are up 29%** from last year. Like Lexus, Acura's top-seller is a midsize premium CUV--the MDX--which is the seventh-best-selling luxury model, year to date.
  • Although Cadillac sales have declined nearly 9% from a year ago, the brand is the fifth-best-selling premium nameplate. September sales have slipped by 1.3% from last year. Cadillac's best-selling SRX midsize premium CUV ranks as the fifth-best-selling luxury model with U.S. consumers and also is among the five highest-ranking models in its segment in the 2012 Initial Quality Study.
  • Even though Lexus and Cadillac's best sellers are crossovers, the remaining three luxury brands in the top eight in volume--Audi, Infiniti and Lincoln--share something in common: their top-selling models are traditional passenger cars.
  • Audi's A4 compact premium conventional model is the Volkswagen luxury brand's best seller, while Nissan's Infiniti lineup is led by the G midsize premium conventional sedan, coupe and convertible. The G is the fourth-best-selling premium model in the market year to date. Lincoln lands in eighth place to date this year and its best-selling model is the MKZ, which is one of the highest-ranking models in the 2012 Initial Quality Study in the Entry Premium car segment.

Overall, it's been a reasonably good first three quarters for luxury vehicle sales. Luxury brand sales have risen 11.8% (on a selling-day-adjusted basis) to more than 1 million unit sales, which is less than the industry's 14% year-to-date increase from last year. However, only two of the best-selling eight premium brands--Cadillac and Lincoln--have sold fewer vehicles than a year ago. The other six have posted gains. So far this year, all eight luxury brands account for a 9.4% share of the market, down slightly from a 9.6% share a year ago.

*Note: J.D. Power and Associates and LMC Automotive have a strategic alliance to share data and produce sales forecasts based on J.D. Power's real-time transaction data collected by the Power Information Network(R) (PIN), with analysis and intelligence from LMC Automotive.

**Sales percentages are calculated on a selling-day-adjusted basis.

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