Mercedes-Benz had to withstand another December charge by BMW to capture the U.S. luxury-brand sales crown for 2013 -- the first time Mercedes finished on top since 1999.
Fresh products did the trick, said Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA.
Mercedes launched the new CLA compact sedan and a redesigned S-class sedan in the fall and a significantly revamped E-class range earlier in the year. Cannon said improved customer service, the result of a major effort Mercedes undertook with its dealers last year, also played a role.
"The volume is a validation of what we are doing in the marketplace and what we are doing with our dealers and our focus on customer experience," he said.
Mercedes ended the year with record sales, up 14 percent from 2012 to 312,528. In December, its sales rose 17 percent to 33,007.
2013 sales of 14,113 CLAs were a major contributor to Mercedes' win over BMW, but the S class and E class outsold the competing BMW 7 series and 5 series.
Cannon said the CLA generated traffic in showrooms, but he said the vehicle is now in short supply.
"The fact that we sold faster than we expected means we will have to deal with lean inventory for the first quarter," Cannon said.
"But that will resolve in the second quarter."
Buyers who came into showrooms looking for a CLA often wound up buying a C class, which will be redesigned this fall, Cannon said.
Mercedes ended the year 3,248 units ahead of BMW division, which cut sharply into the lead in December. After 11 months, BMW had been 7,610 vehicles behind.
Helped by an incentive blitz, BMW sold 37,389 units in December. That was about the same as December 2012, when BMW's late push enabled it to come from behind to snatch the 2013 luxury crown from Mercedes.
"We were so close, it was OK -- it was less than 1 percent in the end," said Ludwig Willisch, CEO of BMW of North America.
"December was an excellent month. It was better than we expected."
Willisch said BMW could have done even better, but it did not have full availability of the redesigned X5 crossover, which arrived in the United States in late November.
BMW division's U.S. sales for the year rose 10 percent to 309,280 units, breaking BMW's 2007 record.
Willisch predicted another record year in 2014, with such products on the way as the 2-series coupe and convertible, the i3 all-electric car and the all-new X4 crossover.
BMW was tops in U.S. luxury sales in 2012 and 2011. Before 2011, Lexus had finished first for 11 straight years.
Lexus was No. 3 again in 2013, up 12 percent to 273,847 vehicles. December sales rose 14 percent to 34,757 units.
"Lexus had its best sales month in seven years, and the luxury segment outperformed the overall auto industry in December" said Jeff Bracken, Lexus general manager. "We expect the luxury market will continue to expand in 2014."