By on December 3, 2010

We’ve been following the race for the #1 luxury brand in the U.S.A. for quite a while with rapt attention, and have been predicting all along that it will come down to the wire. It looks even more so after dissecting the November numbers. Or rather after leaving the dissecting to Bloomberg.

After cleaning out the non-luxurious items (Smarts, Minis, Mercedes vans, that kind of stuff) from the data, Bloomberg, which has a fetish (or the right readership) for these stories, reports that BMW was the top selling luxury brand in November. But let’s dispense with the November numbers. Where do they stand year-to-date with one month to go until the fat lady clears her throat?

So far, according to Bloomberg’s numbers, Lexus delivered 201,769 vehicles through November, inches ahead of BMW (196,833), which is mere millimeters in front of Mercedes (196,288.)

TrueCar.com says that Lexus received some performance-enhancing drugs: They more than doubled the incentives. BMW and Mercedes, emboldened by fresh product and Toyota’s recalls, were stingier with the discounts.

Brian Smith, vice president of U.S. Lexus sales, is confident that Lexus will top BMW and Mercedes, and that “it will be an 11th year for Lexus, in terms of luxury car and SUV sales.”

The other guys? Not even close. Bloomberg delivers some data, but they don’t jibe with the data tabulated by Automotive News. Also, there are some discrepancies between the top 3 Bloomberg numbers and the ones we have. Who knows who’s wrong. Did we mention there will be suspense till the end?

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27 Comments on “Luxury Cars: And The Winner Is – Totally Up In The Air...”


  • avatar
    iseecars

    Can’t go wrong with any of those cars.  I have a bimmer and a lexus.

  • avatar
    HoldenSSVSE

    Toyota has learned well from their American competition.  Put enough money on the hood and a vehicle that doesn’t handle as well, brake as well, ride as well, and isn’t as fun to drive as the equally priced competition will sell very well because everyone loves a bah-gain.  Profits be damned, we’ll make it up in volume!!!

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Come on, where does Jaguar/Land Rover rank? I need a laugh.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    Saab is not on the list. Injustice! Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs… of… something. Slip! … Slip already, for God’s sake!

  • avatar
    M 1

    Still, it’s a neat marketing trick. Take a boring Toyota appliance, declare it to be a luxury brand, and apparently the press will just take your word for it and suck it up. Meanwhile you can produce and sell these “luxury” rides near plain-Jane Toyota pricing and enjoy being declared the “winner” despite being incapable of competing with actual luxury brands in virtually any category that matters.
     
    It’s like the car version of those transgender freaks trying to join the LPGA.

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      That is such a crock.  When Lexus came out with the LS400, they showed MB and BMW what a luxury car should be.  That was not a marketing trick – it was engineering and manufacturing excellence.
       
      I’ll be the first to admit that Toyota has fallen since then, while MB and BMW have gotten their acts together, but it’s absurd to say the LS is just something Toyota “declared” a luxury vehicle.  And if you’re against platform shared cars like the ES, you should be against most of the Audis, Lincolns, and Cadillacs as well.

    • 0 avatar
      genuineleather

      ^M 1, wow, really?

      Poor analogy aside, Lexus has some excellent original prodcts, though the real money is in the Toyota-derived offerings. And, obviously, Lexus is competitive in “categories that matter” to buyers given they wipe the floor with Audi, Acura, Infiniti, Volvo, Jaguar, etc.

      It’s still surprising that neither Mercedes nor BMW are pulling ahead given their new vehicles in the crucial midsize segment and Lexus’ aging portfolio.

      (The above coming from a Mercedes owner who wouldn’t touch a Lexus product)

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      M1 sounds like somebody who works for Mercedes corporate. I just got done with a training course for the S400 Hybrid. They compared it to the LS600h and how those are the only two full size hybrid vehicles. They compared the price and said the Lexus is over 100K. “That’s over six figures. That is a lot of money  for a Toyota.” They neglect to mention that the Lexus uses the hybrid system to augment the need for 12 cylinder, and a fully loaded S600 is near 200K, and an S65 breaks 200K.
       
      Personally, I don’t get why  anybody comes in to a Mercedes dealer, test drives any car. Experiences tire noise that everyone on TTAC would be criticizing a Cavalier for. Compares engine performance to any mainstream  engine, and whips out $65K for a car. I guess a three pointed star on the hood is more important to a luxury car buyer than a comfortable and quite cabin, or good performance.

  • avatar
    mhadi

    I second that the comment from M1 is an utter crock. You think by merely stating that Lexus is a luxury car the world was deceived? What utter nonsense. Don’t make these factitious claims to promote you anti-Toyota sentiment.
    While the Americans built luxury cars by putting in plusher carpets, vinyl roofs and a fancy grill, Lexus built a car that was truly superb. Mercedes and BMW realized they no longer had a free ride who sold some real stinkers in their day.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      I actually like Toyota.
       
      But I’ve owned quite a few Benzes and BMWs and I’ve tried to find a Lexus that compared. They’re cheap feeling inside. They’re competent cars — most modern cars are competent, that’s no longer an accomplishment in the 21st century. But they are by no means luxurious. Unless you’re normally accustomed to, say, Toyotas.
       
      Hey, it’s an opinion. Everybody has one. Like a Lexus, apparently.

    • 0 avatar
      mhadi

      An opinion is one thing to which everyone is entitled, but the claim you made was that they “Take a boring Toyota appliance, declare it to be a luxury brand, and apparently the press will just take your word for it and suck it up”. If anything, the press will give a free ride to the established German makers, but not an upstart (Lexus).

       

    • 0 avatar
      mhadi

      An opinion is one thing to which everyone is entitled, but the claim you made was that they “Take a boring Toyota appliance, declare it to be a luxury brand, and apparently the press will just take your word for it and suck it up”. If anything, the press will give a free ride to the established German makers, but not an upstart (Lexus).
      I take your word that some Lexus models feel cheap inside, just like a C-class or some older MLs do.

       

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      If you are talking about a superb Mercedes, you must be talking about one’s older than the early 90s. The new models are completely overpriced and under performing. What’s superb? The road noise that sounds like failing wheel bearings, or the vinyl seats?

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    The marketers think winning the best selling luxury marque is some sort of indicator of brand health, but a brand’s true strength is having high market share and high profitability.
     
    They ought to learn from a powerful brand like Rolex, which has 50% of the luxury watch market and is also the most profitable watch company (citing Intelligent Life magzine article on Rolex circa 2004). Aspirational because it’s just out of reach for most people, but profitable because it does high volume with the 2-3% of the population that can afford it, with no sales or discounting.

    From that perspective, all the luxury automotive brands are weak due to brand dilution, lack of economies of scales, lack of focus, inability to engineer reliability into their products, or having the wrong sales and support channel. This is the wrong proxy fight to win.

    • 0 avatar
      aspade

      Developing a modern car costs billions.  Making that back requires volume.  Developing a watch doesn’t cost anything.

    • 0 avatar
      WaftableTorque

      If the barriers of entry are so low for the luxury watch business, why not just create a new watch company and eat Rolex’s lunch? Many have tried or are still trying.
       
      On another note, brands are powerful, so much so that brand loyalists eagerly spit venom of other brands. You’ll have Lexus enthusiasts like myself who’d never be caught dead in a BMW or Mercedes, but would cross-shop a Hyundai. Just see the other posters here for their brand allegiances. I think a sign of a weak luxury brand is a lack of advocacy. I don’t see a lot of vocal support for Acura, Volvo, or Lincoln.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Uhh, why not start a Rolex competitor? Because they don’t sell watches. There’s some styling involved, but as far as I can tell, all watche – I’m sorry, timepieces, are equally hideous and overwrought. The trick is in history, branding, and perhaps a good dollop of how phenomenally arrogant and pretentious you manage to get your ads to look.
       
      A luxury style brand crowing about profit margin is absurd; manufacturing costs are nil for that kind of thing. Cars have at least some objective and many subjective – but real – measures of performance. Watches have zero, aside from their ability to tell time. And even that, in the case of ‘timepieces’, is usually significantly sub-par vs, say, the thing that you got in a plastic bubble out of a vending machine.
       
      Essentially, a luxury watch’s only feature is its price. The watch is secondary; the purchaser is donating to the company in exchange for
       
      a) ensuring that the rest of the world knows he has money to spend on ensuring that the rest of the world knows he has money
       
      b) feeling good about himself
       
      The watch is a token. It’s like those canvas tote bags they give you when you donate $400 to PBS. You’re not paying $400 for the tote bag – you’re giving $400 to PBS and you get the tote bag for free so everyone around you knows that you like PBS and had an extra 400 smackers lying around.
       
      The only real difference is that with PBS, at least some of your money goes to making new episodes of Nova and Nature and pissing off conservative blowhards; with Rolex, it’s a straight-up donation to the company’s stockholders, and, indirectly, to the people who make money spamming in order to sell rip-off Rolexes to people who probably don’t watch PBS.
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      FleetofWheel

      A watch is jewelry for men that has an aura of masculinity because it is a functional, mechanical object.
       
      As for:
      a) ensuring that the rest of the world knows he has money to spend on ensuring that the rest of the world knows he has money

      b) feeling good about himself
      You just described the rational behind a host of liberal pursuits done voluntarily (solo) and compulsory (forced on on others like public funding for political PBS shows).

  • avatar
    mike978

    I broadly agree with M1 – Lexus isn`t upto BMW or MB standards. That is why in some markets like the UK Lexus has had to beat a retreat and become a hybrid only brand.
     
    The GX, HS and ES are all rip offs of Toyota product. The HS just looks like a Corolla with chrome and $12000 added in price.
     
    The IS is about the only product that could compete and that is easily outsold by the 3 series.
     
    Lexus only has a shot at selling the most vehicles because of the RX and the poor reception to the X3 (deservedly so). If you just look at cars then Lexus is a distant second or third.

    • 0 avatar
      mhadi

      The U.K. is not really an indicator of the overall health of the brand – Toyota is by far less popular in Europe than North America. In addition, in Europe, MB, Audis and BMWs are available in much cheaper versions that in North America, making them a bit more affordable and competitive with cheaper cars than over here – hence greater market share. I have always regarded Lexus as luxury Toyotas – in fact, I believe in japan some North America Lexus models sell as Toyotas.
      I have no issue with using a basic vehicle architecture to make several variants of a car. Audi, VW, Seat and Skoda do it – no one is the worse off for it. Volvo and Ford along with Mazda did it – believe me a Volvo V70 /XC70 as well as the V50/S40 do feel and ride like Volvo products, not Fords. Platform sharing is good.
       
      If MB and BMW end up having to develop individual platforms that are limited to each model, they won’t be in business indefinitely, which was why there was initial talk of cooperation among themselves.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      Mhadi
       
      I have to disagree with you since the UK is the worlds 5th biggest economy and BMW’s 4rd biggest market. So it does count. You minimise Toyota being strong in the US but weak in Europe but then complain when BMW is weak (relatively) in the US but strong in Europe. BMW is at least equal with Lexus in the US whilst being far ahead in Europe.
      I am glad you agree that Lexus is just a Luxury Toyota. Much like Acura is a luxury Honda. That is the point. They are not equal to BMW’s or MB’s which are just luxury cars.
      The cheapest BMW 3 series may have a smaller engine but it is still around the cost of a 328 in the US – UK prices start around GBP20K (equivalent to $32K or so) and in the US the 328 starts at $34K + tax. Pretty comparable.

    • 0 avatar
      D101

      mike,
      since GX, HS and ES are not offered in Europe, dont you find your first two statements contradicting?
      I dont think IS, GS, RX and LS are inferior to the german offerings in any possible way.
      The real place where Lexus lacks is diesel engines – Europe tolerates diesel via lower taxes and low emission standards (more tolerant to the diesel engines on the top of that). However, Lexus more than compensate this with much cleaner and as efficient hybrids, but it seems europeans are simply not into hybrids just yet.
      There is also a 10% import tax for cars made in Japan.
      And last but not least – the model range of Lexus is much more upscale – in Switzerland where I live the cheapest Lexus is IS200d – 47600 Fr. while BMW 116d is 27900 Fr, Audi A3 1.6TDI – 31800 Fr and Mercedes A160 – 27900 Fr.

  • avatar
    blue adidas

    BMW and MB shouldn’t worry about being 1st place in sales. Except for the LS (or the too bizarre to be relevant LFA) Lexus isn’t even really a Luxury brand if you look closely at the Camry based crap that sits in the showroom. Let them have the title of first place. Mercedes, Audi, BMW and Infiniti own the title of making real luxury cars.

  • avatar

    I can assure you after 30 years on the inside that at least German luxury makers took Lexus VERY seriously, that they were perturbed by the Lexus success in the U.S. and that they did everything to keep Lexus out of their home market.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    OK, we are getting dangerously close to the fanboy world here…
    I see all of these vehicles up close and in the flesh ever single week. What I can tell you is this…
    Each one provides an ‘experience’ that is completely different from the other. They all add value to the marketplace and I wouldn’t discredit any vehicle for the little emblem on it. Mercedes, Lexus, Hyundai… none of it matters.
    The Germans had to adjust to the strong quality, cost and manufacturing prowess of Toyota. I would say, judging by what I see at the auctions, that they have largely achieved that goal. Mercedes and BMW’s still wear a bit more than the Lexus models. But the former has improved considerably and the later has more of an ‘enthusiast’ demographic to consider.  Lexus is a wonderful brand but the decontenting of the interiors is starting to hurt them a bit… as it hurt the German makes 10 to 15 years ago.
    Let’s stop living in the luxury world of the past and instead, look at each of the specific models for their qualities. As for Rolexes, feel free to donate one to me if you like. I won’t complain about the craftsmanship.
     

  • avatar
    Brock_Landers

    Lexus product mix is US market orientated. In Europe for Lexus it is impossible to compete with the Germans because of the narrow availability of different engine-, body and drivetrain options. In Europe Lexus is a niche luxury brand (execpt in the Baltics and Russia). I don’t know if its intentional to keep the sales volumes low (not to compete with Toyota maybe) or poor leadership in Japan, but seems that Europe is not priority for Lexus. Good example is 3-series vs IS. IS has two engine/gearbox combination options – IS250 with automatic rwd or IS220d diesel manual rwd, available are sedan or convertible (conv has marginal sales volume compared to the sedan). 3-series in the other hand: sedan, wagon (!), coupe, convertible – engines – 316d, 318d, 320d, 325d, 330d, 335d, 316i, 318i, 320i, 325i, 330i, 335i. manual or automatic with any of the engines. rwd or awd selection with half of the engine choices. with the smaller engines bmw can offer very low spec car which is suitable for fleet sales. Lexus engine and equipment choices start from lot higher, hence zero fleet sales etc etc.

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