MICHIGAN (Bloomberg) – German carmakers Daimler AG and BMW AG got a faster U.S. sales start on the new year with their Mercedes-Benz and BMW brands than Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus, which has been the annual leader among luxury brands for 11 years.
Mercedes' U.S. sales rose 11 percent from a year ago to 16,398 and BMW reported a 21 percent gain to 15,905, while Lexus said Tuesday sales declined 17 percent to 12,860.
Lexus last year held off BMW and Mercedes to keep the top luxury sales spot in the U.S., a position it's held since 2000, as both German brands gained ground on the unit sales of Toyota. Now BMW's redesigned X3 SUV is in showrooms and Mercedes is planning to bring out a refreshed C-Class sedan, the brand's volume leader.
“A new year, a new race,” said Jesse Toprak, an industry analyst with TrueCar.com, a Santa Monica, California-based website that tracks industry sales. “Probably another photo finish.”
The Lexus annual lead over BMW shrank to 9,216 in 2010, less than half the 19,473 gap in 2009. The Japanese automaker's 2010 sales rose 6.2 percent to 229,329. BMW's U.S. sales rose 12 percent to 220,113 in 2010 while Mercedes rose 14 percent to 216,448 for the year.
The results exclude Daimler's Sprinter vans and Smart cars and BMW's Mini brand, which aren't luxury vehicles.
“Lexus had a very strong push through the end of 2010,” Bob Carter, Toyota's group vice president for U.S. sales, said on a conference call Tuesday. “Some business for January got pulled into December.”
Competition among Lexus, BMW and Mercedes in the final months of last year could affect the segment in the first part of this year, said Kurt McNeil, vice president of sales for General Motors Co.'s Cadillac.
“There's going to be some payback in the whole luxury space because of the big three slugging it out” in the final months of last year, he said yesterday in a telephone interview.
Lexus, which felt the effects of Toyota's record recalls in the U.S. last year, more than doubled incentive spending in the fourth quarter compared with a year earlier as the race grew close in the year's final months, according to TrueCar.com.
Lexus incentive spending in January continued to be higher than a year ago. Its average incentive cost during the month was $2,752, 78 percent more than last year, TrueCar said.
BMW incentive spending fell 20 percent to $3,434 while Mercedes' fell 3.5 percent to $3,329, according to TrueCar.
Mercedes deliveries were helped by a 24 percent sales increase of the E-Class sedan and 3.6 percent gain by the C-Class sedan, the company said.
Ernst Lieb, head of Mercedes's U.S. unit, said in a telephone interview that he's feeling positive about the market's growth.
“It's going to continue what we've seen in the last six months of 2010,” he said yesterday.
Sales for GM's Cadillac luxury division rose 49 percent to 12,580 last month, as CTS sales rose 70 percent aided by the new coupe version.
“It continues to win award after award, just a credit to the execution on that vehicle,” McNeil said of the CTS Coupe.
Nissan Motor Co.'s Infiniti sold 7,405 vehicles, a 10 percent increase from a year earlier, the company said.
Honda Motor Co., based in Tokyo, said sales for its Acura brand rose 12 percent to 7,961 last month.
U.S. deliveries of Volkswagen AG's Audi brand rose 20 percent to 7,812 vehicles.
Porsche AG, the Stuttgart-based automaker merging with Volkswagen, didn't report sales yesterday. Porsche, citing a reporting error in the system, hopes to release them today, Tony Fouladpour, a spokesman, said in an e-mail.
Ford Motor Co. sold 5,558 Lincoln luxury vehicles in January, a 21 percent decrease from a year earlier, according to a statement from the automaker.
Tata Motors Ltd. posted gains of 48 percent to 935 vehicles for the Mumbai-based company's Jaguar brand and 16 percent to 2,271 for Land Rover.