By on April 2, 2010

Didn’t BMW make noises that they “want to be the number 1 luxury carmaker in the United States by 2012?“ If that’s still the case, then the boys from Bavaria better get their act together. Currently, they don’t look so good. In the March 2010 sales round-up, they came in with a measly 3 percent growth, while the market grew 24 percent. Then, as Automotive News [sub] points out, there is a dark horse:

Lexus. They were invisible in our list, because they were bunched into the Toyota numbers. AN broke the numbers out and came to the conclusion that “Lexus — the leading luxury-auto brand in the United States for the past decade — used a 42 percent gain in March to inch ahead of rival Mercedes-Benz after the first quarter.”

AN cleaned up all the data, removed all the non-luxury goods, such as Mercedes Sprinter vans (and most likely the odd Smart and Mini) and came to the following conclusion:

Lexus sold 49,523 luxury cars in the first quarter.

Mercedes is just a few behind with 49,229 for the quarter.

BMW comes in third, with 46,323 sold in the first quarter of 2010.

(In case you are missing Audi: They were listed under Volkswagen. A separate press release shows that Audi isn’t even close: They closed out the first quarter with 21,315 units.)

Does that mean the already counted out luxury segment is coming back from the near-dead? Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst at Edmunds is surprised: “We assumed when times were tough that luxury sales would fall. It has held its share of the market. The luxury market is doing pretty well.”

The numbers show a tight neck-on-neck race. Currently, the luxo-brands with the strongest acceleration are Lexus and Daimler. However, it’s a long time until the end of 2012, and a lot can happen in an endurance race.

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34 Comments on “Lexus Wins First Round Of Luxury Race...”


  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    I’m rooting for Saab.

    …actually, I saw the new 9-5 in NY yesterday, and it was pretty nice. The interior quality is up there now, maybe not quite up to BMW/Audi but vastly improved over the creaky-hollow-handled abortion that GM inflicted on the NG 9-3. The question is whether paid-off journalists and angry bloggers will instantly dismiss it since it’s so slow (0-60 in 6.7 doesn’t go very far these days).

    • 0 avatar
      mpresley

      The question is whether paid-off journalists…will instantly dismiss it…

      What journalists are “paid off?”

    • 0 avatar

      They might also dismiss it because it’s ugly and the interior has more GM corporate parts sharing and materials inside than every before. All of that and it’s pretty damn expensive for what you get.

    • 0 avatar

      What journalists are paid off? What ones aren’t??

      In all seriousness, I’m among those who raise an eyebrow to a certain publication’s ever-fawning articles about all things Bavarian. I can also personally attest to the… ahem, pressure… from publishers to cast a positive light on all matters involving heavy advertisers.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      How can anyone not root for Saab?

      They were saved from the GM electric chair just as the switch was being thrown.

    • 0 avatar
      mpresley

      I’m among those who raise an eyebrow to a certain publication’s ever-fawning articles about all things Bavarian. I can also personally attest to the… ahem, pressure… from publishers to cast a positive light on all matters involving heavy advertisers.

      Two questions:

      1) If you could afford any high performance sedan would you seriously consider a BMW M3 or 5, or just chalk it up to media hype and walk away?

      2) Have you taken time to count the pages of advertising in C/D (that’s who we’re talking about, right?) in order to compare, say, Ferrari’s pages as opposed to, for instance, GM?

      That being said, a flight to Maranello in order to drive the latest and greatest Italian screamer has got to be taken into account. I don’t know who pays, to tell you the truth. On the other hand, does anyone, anywhere doubt that a higher end Ferrari is not a car to be reckoned with? And where else are you going to go to test a 599XX?

    • 0 avatar
      stationwagon

      I would actually buy a new Saab 9-5, I’m not you regular car shopper though. I love the new interior it looks clean and I love the green color of the dials, it actually looks like an airplane cockpit. About the exterior I just wish it weren’t so long, but I love the way the windshield looks like a wrap around windshield. Saab was never really meant to compete with major car makers, but it wasn’t meant to go bust either. we need more companies that care more about design, craftsmanship and mechanics, more than marketshare and cost per unit.

    • 0 avatar

      @mpresley — Of course I’d consider those cars. The M3/M5 heritage is well-deserved, even with today’s rather gluttonous examples… but c’mon, Bimmers don’t win EVERY comparison. Unless C&D is doing the writing.

      As for GM’s advertising, that raises an interesting point. I don’t recall seeing a lot of GM advertising in C&D in the late 80s and throughout the 90s, but wow there sure is a lot of it now. Curiously enough, the reviews have become more favorable as well.

      So what came first — the chicken or the egg?

  • avatar
    johnthacker

    “Currently, the luxo-brands with the strongest acceleration are Lexus and Daimler.”

    While Audi isn’t even close in total sales, they did have faster percentage growth than Daimler, so arguably they have stronger acceleration. Daimler did sell about 6,500 more cars in the 1Q of 10 compared to 09, as against Audi’s 5,500 more, but Audi can be pretty content with their growth right now.

    Looks like the turbodiesel version of the A3 finally gave the A3 a reason to exist in North America.

    • 0 avatar
      mpresley

      The A3 (TDI or TFSI) is really the answer to a question few United States Americans are asking. An A3 with a couple of options (in order to make it something approaching a “real” Audi) is going to hit the mid 30s. That’s a bit much for a small wagon–at least for Americans. I’d guess the A1 (is it coming here?) would have a better chance.

    • 0 avatar
      johnthacker

      @mpresley–

      In general I agree, and that was certainly true before. But the A3 sales have jumped up enormously since they introduced the TDI. The regular A3 is pretty pointless, since by the time you add in options that the A4 came standard with, you’re at A4 prices. But the turbodiesel apparently has some real fans.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    I still get nervous when I’m crossing the street w/my kids and a Lexus is sitting at the stop light/sign! Good to know they are selling so well ….LOL

  • avatar
    Syke

    I guess this shows that driving ability is one of the least considerations for the crowd who’s buying luxury marques.

    • 0 avatar
      meefer

      In the largest selling segment, CUVs, do you really care that your X3 pulls 0.0-whatever more than a Lexus RX on the skidpad or lap times between a Q5 and a GLK?

  • avatar
    werewolf34

    Or it shows that luxury buyers want reliability more than driving excitement

  • avatar
    werewolf34

    I would guess 90% of BMW owners don’t push their cars past the Honda / Toyota performance point

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    Lexus depends entirely on the RX. Without that, their numbers would be nowhere near the level of the Germans.

    • 0 avatar
      Rada

      BMW depends entirely on the 3-series, which is worse because BMW is a company. And Audi depends entirely on A4. And MB depends on ML-whatever (or other boring crap they sell to housewives).

      You make it sound like Lexus is some kind of an outlier here.

  • avatar
    ConejoZing

    Congrats, Lexus! I’ve heard certain parts of the country are dominated by the Lexus brand. I’ve noticed certain Lexus design elements cast a near magic spell over a certain type of person. Kind of hard to describe, really.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I think BMW will have a very hard time growing share in the US thanks to the their brand image. Here in Northern California at least, it seems that a high proportion of BMW drivers are agressive type-A people who communicate complete disregard for fellow road users through their agressive. The Brand Message: “BMW’s are for Narcissists”. This effect keeps the majority of luxury and near-luxury car buyers from even considering the brand in the first place thanks to the image said vehicle conveys. BMW was smart to keep the Mini as a completely separate brand, because a lot of Mini buyers wouldn’t be caught dead behind a BMW badge.

    • 0 avatar
      Rada

      I see a BMW, I think “status seeker”.

    • 0 avatar

      I am not so sure about the status. Although true, the only bimmer driver I know is a guy who became rich from nVidia options (and he has a 700 series), and so status seeking certainly is present, in general I don’t recall a lot of discortegious driving from them. I’d say Section 8 inhabitants in rustmobiles are a worse menace on the roads of Silicon Valley. Heck you know what the worst, period? Bicyclists. They really think they are invincible, because the invisible hand of law protects them. BMW owners are real lambs in comparison.

      For some reason, when I think “status”, I think the guy who owned an ISP in Fremont, then changed sex and started driving a red Viper with plates ZOOMCOM. I guess it’s a different kind of status…

    • 0 avatar
      baggins

      A few points:

      Do you assert this image something new from BMW? Because they have been growing share for some time.

      I live in Northern Cal and I see them everywhere, all the time. The image seems to work for quite a few people around here.

      What is Mercedes or Lexus’ image, I assure you one could make create negative sterotypes about owners of those brands as well.

      Not real crisp analysis in your post, maybe you just dont like BMWs

    • 0 avatar
      bking12762

      WOW John….Really?

    • 0 avatar
      Wagen

      A question for those who associate BMW with “status seeker:”

      Which marque do you associate with drivers who appreciate a car that *drives* (handles/performs) well. Please exclude exotics, Porsche (since until very recently they did not make a sedan), Challenger/Mustang/Camaro.

  • avatar
    outdoorplaces

    Lets face it, American’s love beige, numb, rubbery crap. They don’t like to DRIVE.

    An ES is just a tarted up Camry for cripe sakes.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    As a two-time BMW owner (aka “glutton for punishment”) I would say that BMW’s position near the top of the charts indicates that a lot of luxury car drivers DON’T care about reliability or high levels of customer service.

    I’m not sure I was really a Status Seeker, since I had a 5-series wagon with a manual transmission. I liked the car, when it wasn’t in the shop. My other BMW was actually a motorcycle and it spent more time in the shop than on the road as well. The dealers’ and factory’s attitude made the experiences even worse.

    I’ve driven a few Lexus vehicles (brother-in-law has an IS350… really fast car) and the overall smoothness and fit and finish was great. If their customer service and quality is as high as the consumer books say, I’ll have to strongly consider them next time… they don’t really offer anything with a manual transmission, though.

  • avatar

    Strictly speaking, IS-250 with a manual exists. But it’s a 204hp, 16.0 s 1/4mi (although personally I love that powerplant, it’s not overly powerful). Is this what you meant as “don’t really offer anything”? IS-350 has a sequential autobox. And the same chassis with 416hp, called IS-F, has a conventional 8-speed automatic… of all things. I cannot fathom why. Not even a dual-clutch sequential or anything like that.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    @stevelovescars

    There’s an Infiniti G37 MT out there with your name on it. These days Infinitis are more reliable than the competition from Lexus, and they drive more like BMWs than any other Japanese car. The G37 will blow the doors off the IS250 MT.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually I cross-shopped G37 with IS250/350, Lexus won. Why? Perversely because it’s less of a brute of a car than the souped-up Z370. The ergonomics of secondary controls are noticeably better in the IS too. Plus, 4 doors in case they are needed. But I will be first to admit that G37 may be a powerful performer on the track.

  • avatar
    BMWfan

    I don’t know where the status image of owning a BMW comes from in the USA. In Germany, BMW’s are just considered regular cars. Mercedes has much more status in Germany. BMW’s marketing department seems to be doing a heck of a job over here. Personally, I did not buy my BMW for status, I bought it for the driving dynamics. Almost anyone can buy a CPO BMW, as they are fairly cheap. It’s the maintenance at the dealer that will kill you. If you can DIY, a BMW is actually a reasonably cost effective car to own. I also try to drive more carefully when I am in my BMW as to not perpetuate the “BMW drivers are pricks” mentality.

  • avatar
    ewok

    BMW’s marketing department is jumping off the deep end by ditching “ultimate driving machine” for the vague “joy”.

    As for the earlier Saab 9-5 comments: the quality of the interior is great. The 9-5 at the New York show had an interior trimmed with REAL aluminum. Not the painted, “aluminum look” interiors of the CTS and XF, but the real thing. Its the little details such as this that are encouraging to see. If that attention to detail carries over to the 9-4 Saab will have a fighting chance.

    until then I will consider Saab to be still hungry for brains. BRAINS!

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