SOUTHFIELD, Michigan – BMW AG's namesake brand outsold Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz in April to be the month's top-selling luxury brand in the U.S. and to take the lead for the year by just 29 vehicles.
BMW's U.S. deliveries, boosted by sales of the new 5-series sedan and X3 SUV, rose 8.9 percent to 18,801 compared to the same month last year, the automaker said Wednesday in a statement.
Deliveries for the first four months of the year rose to 71,417 vehicles, to lead Mercedes's 71,388 sales and the 64,932 deliveries by Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus.
"It's going to be more or less the same for the rest of the year, a horse race," said Jesse Toprak, an industry analyst with TrueCar.com, a website that tracks auto sales trends. "It's going to be a photo finish."
Lexus has been the top-selling luxury auto brand in the U.S. on an annual basis for the past 11 years. Its lead over BMW narrowed to 9,216 last year, less than half the 19,473 gap in 2009. Mercedes finished in third place last year.
Mark Templin, head of U.S. Lexus sales, said last month that the brand doesn't expect to retain its volume lead in the U.S. this year because of supply disruptions following the March 11 earthquake. All but one Lexus model is made only in Japan.
U.S. sales of BMW's 5 series rose 77 percent last month and the X3 more than tripled its deliveries, the company said.
U.S. dealers sold 18,042 Mercedes-Benz cars and SUVs last month, 2.3 percent more than a year earlier, Daimler said in a statement. The results exclude Daimler's Sprinter vans and Smart cars and BMW's Mini brand, which aren't luxury vehicles.
Lexus sales last month slipped 4.3 percent to 17,576, the company said in a statement. While Lexus has stumbled, German luxury makers also are benefiting from improved credit markets that make it less expensive to offer low lease payments, Toprak said in a telephone interview.
U.S. deliveries of Volkswagen AG's Audi brand rose 7.5 percent to 10,018 vehicles last month, the brand's best April on record, the company said in an e-mail.
Ernst Lieb, head of Mercedes's U.S. unit, said the race to be the year's top-selling luxury carmaker in the U.S. isn't his sole mission. "My instructions are to find a balance between market share and profitability," Lieb said in an interview last month at the New York auto show.
BMW's goal is to be the No. 1 German brand, said Jim O'Donnell, head of the company's U.S. sales operations. "We've got more new product coming," he said at the New York show. "I think we will outsell them this year."
O'Donnell and Mercedes' Lieb have said they may not benefit from production disruptions in Japan following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. "We can't produce any more" than we are making already, O'Donnell said. His comments echoed those Lieb made in an interview last month when he said that Mercedes production plans are set in advance and there's limited ability to take advantage of any Lexus shortages in the short-term.
"There's probably some way for them to increase production and you'll see them, perhaps, ever so quietly," Toprak said. "And you're going to also see domestics trying to get into the race as well," he said.
The luxury market may experience a "hiccup" in the second quarter because of production disruptions following the Japanese earthquake, O'Donnell said. "All that will lead to is a stronger third and fourth quarter," he said. "Assuming that the Japanese get whatever difficulty they have sorted out."
General Motors Co., poised to regain global sales leadership from Toyota this year, has boosted some production and hopes to sell more CTS and SRX models, Kurt McNeil, Cadillac's vice president of sales, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
"There's not unlimited upside but there's certainly some opportunity," he said of the earthquake disruption. The automaker is scheduled to report first-quarter earnings May 5. Sales for GM's Cadillac luxury division rose 16 percent to 13,127 last month, as CTS sales rose 29 percent aided by the new coupe version.
Nissan Motor Co.'s Infiniti sold 6,761 vehicles, a 6.2 percent decline from a year earlier, the company said in a statement. Honda Motor Co. said in a statement that sales for its Acura brand rose 8.3 percent to 11,604 last month.
Ford Motor Co. sold 7,236 Lincoln luxury vehicles in April, 43 fewer than a year earlier, according to a statement from the automaker. Land Rover deliveries rose 8.4 percent to 2,982, while Jaguar sales gained 39 percent to 1,249, Tata Motors Ltd. said in an e-mailed statement. Industrywide U.S. auto sales may have exceeded a 13 million vehicle seasonally adjusted annual pace for the third straight month.