BMW’s March Surge Trims Mercedes Lead in U.S. Luxury Race

Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s BMW reported a 13 percent U.S. sales increase in March, cutting into the luxury-auto lead of Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz as both brands set records for the month.

Sales for the BMW brand rose 27,078, helped by gains for the X3 and X5 sport-utility vehicles, the Munich-based company said yesterday in a statement. Mercedes posted a 6.5 percent advance from a year earlier to 24,646.

The March results trimmed Mercedes’s 2013 lead to 4,285 cars and SUVs as the two German automakers vie for the annual sales crown BMW has held for the past two years. BMW won last year with a December surge, based on reported sales. Measured by vehicle registrations, Mercedes topped BMW, according to researcher R.L. Polk & Co.

“With housing bouncing back we are at a point where the consumers, especially luxury consumers, are more comfortable getting out there in the marketplace and buying big-ticket items, especially luxury vehicles,” Alec Gutierrez, an analyst at Irvine, California-based researcher Kelley Blue Book, said in a telephone interview.

Mercedes sales for the first quarter gained 12 percent to 69,187, a record for the three-month period, Stuttgart, Germany-based Daimler said in a statement. BMW’s quarterly deliveries advanced 5.4 percent to 64,902. The results don’t include Daimler’s cargo vans and Smart cars and BMW’s Mini brand, which aren’t luxury vehicles.

Good Mood

“The mood of the luxury consumer is good,” Ludwig Willisch, BMW’s chief executive officer for North America, said in an interview. “People are in shopping malls, they’re not too distracted by what’s going on politically and they are willing to spend money on cars.”

Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus reported a 15 percent increase for March, to 23,190, as deliveries of the ES sedan more than doubled. The Toyota City, Japan-based company’s luxury brand, which was the annual sales leader for 11 years until natural disasters in Asia curtailed 2011 output, said it sold 56,740 vehicles in the quarter for a 16 percent gain.

General Motors Co.’s Cadillac rose 49 percent to 15,751 vehicles in March, helped by the new ATS sedan, according to a statement from the Detroit-based company.

Luxury demand is partly fueled by a record number of leases entered into in 2010, when those consumer vehicle contacts rose by more than 600,000 from a year earlier, Gutierrez said.

“A lot of consumers are reaching the end of their leases this year and that drives luxury sales, since a significant percentage of luxury buyers lease their vehicles,” he said.

Audi Record

U.S. sales of Wolfsburg, Germany-based Volkswagen AG’s Audi brand rose 14 percent to 13,253, according to a statement. That was its 27th straight month of record sales and second-best month ever, behind December 2012. The gains included 20 percent for the A4 sedan and 39 percent for the Q5 SUV. Sales for the year rose 16 percent to 34,186, Audi’s best first quarter ever.

Audi continued a low level of discounting in March, Mark Del Rosso, chief operating officer of the brand’s U.S. unit, said in an interview.

“We’re been very deliberate to maintain our profitable growth strategy,” he said.

Honda Motor Co.’s Acura brand boosted sales 26 percent to 14,100 last month, the Tokyo-based company said in a statement.

Nissan Motor Co.’s Infiniti sold 11,103 vehicles, an increase of 9 percent from a year earlier, the Yokohama, Japan-based automaker said in a statement.

Lincoln Decline

Ford Motor Co. sold 6,825 Lincolns in March, a 22 percent drop from a year earlier, the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker reported. Ford has begun a new ad campaign to try to revive the luxury brand, including TV spots during February’s Super Bowl.

Ford sold 2,360 MKZs last month, down 20 percent from a year earlier, as dealers contended with a shortage of the redesigned sedan. After an initial delay, Ford has now delivered 4,600 to dealers, Ken Czubay, the company’s U.S. sales chief, said on a conference call yesterday.

The MKZ’s daily sales rate doubled in last third of the month, compared with the middle third, as inventory of the car improved, he said.

Land Rover sales rose 2.7 percent to 4,314, while Jaguar’s gained 6.6 percent to 1,408, according to an e-mailed statement. The U.K. brands are owned by Mumbai-based Tata Motors Ltd.

Porsche, the Stuttgart-based automaker that is now part of Volkswagen, said it sold a March record 3,487 vehicles in the U.S., a 42 percent gain.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.