Mercedes Takes Early Luxury Lead After Outselling BMW

Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz U.S. sales surged 11 percent in January, getting an early jump in its effort to top Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s BMW in luxury-auto deliveries for the year.

Mercedes said it sold 22,501 vehicles last month, its best January, helped the C-Class sedan’s 11 percent climb to 7,214. Brand sales for BMW increased 0.7 percent to 16,513 units, boosted by a 56 percent gain for its X5 sport-utility vehicle. Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus rose 32 percent to 16,211, led by the ES sedan, which more than doubled to 5,186 deliveries.

The two German automakers are vying to be the top luxury-auto brand in the U.S. after outselling Lexus the past two years. BMW vaulted to its second consecutive U.S. luxury crown with a December surge. Mercedes had the lead after November. Lexus was the top-selling luxury brand in the U.S. for 11 years until natural disasters in Asia curtailed production in 2011.

“We’ve got a stock market that just hit a record level,” Steve Cannon, chief executive officer of Mercedes-Benz USA, said in an interview yesterday. “Housing is recovering and those two things, equity and housing, determine confidence levels. It gets people off the sideline and back into consumption mode. That represents a nice wind at our back.”

The sales results don’t include Daimler’s cargo vans and Smart cars and BMW’s Mini brand, which aren’t luxury vehicles.

“Mercedes is clearly off to a good start,” Jesse Toprak, vice president of market intelligence at TrueCar Inc., said in an interview. “We clearly haven’t seen them losing control on incentive spending. It shows this year is going to be another good year for luxury.”

Mercedes, BMW

Cannon stoked the rivalry between the two German automakers on Jan. 30 when he told Bloomberg Television in an interview that “sales engineering” gave BMW the 2012 crown.

Mercedes is counting on help from new entries such as the CLA sedan, with a starting price of $29,900. The CLA, which goes on sale in September, will be featured in an almost 2-minute ad set to air during the fourth quarter of the CBS broadcast of the Super Bowl on Feb. 3.

“We discussed the pros and cons of introducing a car to the broader public seven months ahead of its launch,” Cannon said in an interview Jan. 14. “But nothing delivers eyeballs and awareness better than the Super Bowl.”

January is typically a “calm month” for BMW, Ludwig Willisch, its CEO for North America, said in an interview. He said he expects the brand to retain the luxury crown this year.

BMW’s Confidence

“It is what it is,” he said. “I guess we just go on. We have another 11 left to go and we’ll see how this works out at the end. We’re really confident and optimistic about this year.”

General Motors Co.’s Cadillac rose 47 percent to 13,116 vehicles in January, helped by the SRX crossover SUV and new XTS sedan, according to a statement from the Detroit-based company.

U.S. sales of Wolfsburg, Germany-based Volkswagen’s Audi brand rose 7.5 percent to 10,056, the company said in a statement. It was the brand’s 25th straight month of record sales, capped by a 37 percent jump for the A5 coupe, to 1,200.

Sales of Tokyo-based Honda Motor Co.’s Acura brand rose 13 percent to 9,489 last month, the company said in a statement.

Nissan Motor Co.’s Infiniti sold 7,126 vehicles, a 4.9 percent gain from a year earlier, the Yokohama, Japan-based automaker said in a statement.

Lincoln’s Low

Ford Motor Co. sold 4,191 Lincolns in January, an 18 percent decrease from a year earlier, according to a statement from the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker. It was the lowest monthly total for the brand since July 1981, when Lincoln posted 3,506 sales, according to Southfield, Michigan-based researcher Ward’s Auto.

Ford is starting a new ad campaign to try to revive the luxury brand, including spots during the Super Bowl.

Lincoln’s decline was because of a dearth of the redesigned MKZ sedan, Ken Czubay, Ford’s U.S. sales chief, said on a conference call. Ford sold 453 MKZs last month, a 73 percent drop from a year earlier. Lincoln inventory should pick up by April, he said.

Porsche, the Stuttgart-based automaker that is now part of Volkswagen, reported in a statement that it sold 3,358 vehicles in the U.S. last month, a 32 percent gain.

Land Rover sales rose 31 percent to 4,200, while Jaguar’s rose 4.5 percent to 1,029, according to an e-mailed statement. The U.K. brands are owned by Mumbai-based Tata Motors Ltd.

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