By on January 25, 2015

A3 vs CLA sales chartThe Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class and Audi A3 attained almost identical levels of popularity in the United States in 2014.

True, Mercedes-Benz sold 27,365 CLAs over the last twelve months; Audi sold only 22,250 A3s during that period. That’s 23% more CLA sales than A3 sales.


• GLA arrival didn’t slow down CLA

• A3 and CLA increasingly popular, but not yet top sellers


But you’ll remember that the CLA arrived at the end of 2013’s third-quarter. The A3 sedan, a replacement for the A3 hatch which never sold as often as this new car, began trickling into dealers in February of this year but wasn’t readily available until April.

Over the final three-quarters of 2014, Audi USA reported 21,387 A3 sales, 151 more than the figure achieved by the CLA over the same period.

CLA250With great frequency, the vehicles marketed by rival German luxury brands aren’t necessarily direct competitors. The CLS, for instance, is a $66,000 sedan with no diesel option; Audi’s A7 is a $66,000 hatchback with diesel availability. S-Class pricing starts 28% beyond the BMW 7-Series’ base MSRP. The E-Class Benz is available as a wagon; BMW’s 5-Series is sadly offered as a ghastly hatchback instead.

The members of this entry-level duo, however, could hardly target the other with greater precision. They are closely aligned in terms of pricing, are available with turbocharged four-cylinders, and send power to the front or all four wheels.The fact that they sell at the exact same pace speaks volumes about the differing tastes of consumers who are looking for the same type of car. 50.184% of the clientele goes Audi’s conservatively-designed direction; 49.82% head to the Mercedes-Benz showroom for swoopier styling.

Mercedes-Benz made greater headway at the end of 2014. Q4 sales, at 9158 units, accounted for one-third of the CLA’s year-end total. Granted, year-over-year volume in the fourth-quarter plummeted 22% compared with the same period one year earlier when the CLA was the freshest produce on the shelves. But fourth-quarter volume rose to the highest level of the year, as if to clarify that the arrival of the GLA crossover/hatch was not going to have an impact on the CLA’s success. The GLA went on sale in September. Q4 volume for that vehicle totalled 5893 units.

At Audi, the fourth-quarter also represented the best period yet for the A3, though at 7581 units, the Audi was well back of the Benz. Audi’s GLA-fighting Q3 went on sale in August. 1092 were sold in September but monthly volume in the fourth-quarter predictably fell from that high. 2319 Q3s were sold between October and December.

2015 Audi A3 sedanAs for other potential competitors, the more performance-oriented BMW 2-Series (including leftover copies of the 1-Series) earned the business of 7345 U.S. customers in 2014, the second-lowest year ever for the 1-Series/2-Series family. More than 13,000 1-Series’ were sold in 2010. Buick Verano volume slid 4% to 43,743 units. Acura ILX sales dropped 13% to 17,854.

Top-tier luxury nameplates are both more expensive and significantly more common. BMW’s wide-ranging 3-Series/4-Series family generated a 19% increase to 142,232 sales in 2014. Mercedes-Benz sold more than 75,000 C-Classes and more than 66,000 E-Classes in a down year. The Lexus ES, BMW 5-Series, Lexus IS, Audi A4, Infiniti Q50, Lincoln MKZ, Cadillac CTS, and Cadillac ATS each produced more U.S. sales in 2014 than either the CLA and A3, as well.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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63 Comments on “Mercedes-Benz CLA And Audi A3 Are Selling At An Identical Pace In The U.S....”


  • avatar
    VoGo

    As a public service, I just want to remind folks that a CPO 2012 A4 is ~$27K.

  • avatar
    GranMarkeez

    Amen brother.

  • avatar
    FractureCritical

    To be fair, I’d like to see how the bmw 320 did over the same period. I know it’s not technically the same, but it’s priced to compete and it’s cross shopped directly against the A3 and CLA. It’s also arguably the only entry level sedan from the Germans that isn’t smaller than a Corolla.

    Would be nice to compare the brand strategies of discontent vs downsize, too

    • 0 avatar
      energetik9

      I wonder how the BMW 2 series would compare also. I continue to hear good things about the M235 and the track package equipped 2. Seems like they would fit in this mix.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        #16 BMW 3-Series & 4-Series ³ 2014= 142,232.. 2013= 119,521 +19.0%

        #105 BMW 1-Series & 2-Series ³ 2014= 7,345.. 2013= 7,220 +1.7%

        ³ BMW has chosen to include sales of the 4-Series within figures for the 3-Series, presumably for year-over-year consistency’s sake, while also combining the 1-Series and 2-Series.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          The 2-series was (and still is to some extent) supply constrained – it shares the factory with the X1, and they are pretty much running flat out. My local dealer only ever got a single 2014 228i for stock, and has gotten no M235is at all. It is getting better, European delivery orders no longer come out of dealer allocations for example.

          I don’t expect the 2-series to ever sell as well as the A3 and CLA though, 2dr coupes are much more of a niche item.

  • avatar
    hreardon

    I’m really surprised at the slow start to Q3 sales. I don’t know if that’s a supply or demand issue, but I would have expected the Q3 volume to be substantially higher than it is currently.

  • avatar

    As I foretold.

    The CLA is a cool little car.
    If I was a 5’0, 110 pound woman I’d have one.

    • 0 avatar
      energetik9

      I think it is a cool car for what it is. Most importantly, it’s pulling in a young demographic which everyone is seeking.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I dunno about the younger part – they seem to be driven exclusively by “women of a certain age” around here. And nothing wrong with that, those older broads have plenty of cash!

        And I always notice the CLA, as it doesn’t look like anything else on the road. I’m not saying I love the look, but it is certainly distinctive.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      Odd comment. How much time do you spend fantasizing about being a petite woman?

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      And given who I see driving them, the world seems to agree with you bigtruck.

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        I’m so confused. My mom is a 5’0 tall woman of a certain age and I took her to look at CLAs when I was home for Christmas. Salesthing young enough to be her grandson suggested leasing. She gave him looks of incredulity. Dealer’s getting a red one in March. She’ll be back to deal.

    • 0 avatar
      akatsuki

      My understanding, not having driven one, that it is actually a terrible car which most reviewers hate:
      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/editorial-still-bad-cars-youll-never-hear/

      I’d much rather buy a last-gen C300 personally, just for RWD and less swoopy ridiculousness, that car drove well, was slightly underpowered, and the interior was relatively poor, but still a great car.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      The CLA may be “cool” (according to some), but it’s not a good car.

      The A3 is so much better.

      Also, there are non lux-branded sub-compacts that drive/ride better than the CLA.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      The concept of the CLA is fine. The execution is terrible. There’s more luxury in a well-equipped VW Jetta.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    I’m thinking the oxymoron of “affordable luxury” is kicking in. Or the automobile for the discerning individual who will give up lattes and drink coffee to make the 3-4k lease down payment.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      It was always there with the 3 Series, C Class and A4.

      The new C Class is the 1st of the German compacts to have a real lux quality interior (the interiors in this class in the 1990s, much less the 1980s were nothing close to “luxury”), not that the CLA has a lux quality interior.

      And aside from the likes of the original A and B Classes (which were in no way luxury), the Germans offered the likes of the 318ti and the Kompressor which were pretty “budget.”

  • avatar
    B Buckner

    I too was taken by the prospect of the A3 being a lighter, more nimble version of the A4 with the same engine. But the A3 is quite cramped with barely functional rear seating and a tiny trunk. The killer for me is the AWD system. The A3 Haldex system is a front drive system that only applies power to the rear when the front wheels spin. The A4 torsen set up continually applies power to all four wheels, with a bias to the rear wheels. I much prefer the dynamics of a rear wheel drive car.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Scariest sentence: “Top-tier luxury nameplates are both more expensive and significantly more common.”

    The subcompacts from RR and Bentley can’t get here soon enough to separate the true luxury people from the riff-raff.

    I’d love to see dual columns on sales – actual sales and lease numbers. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but someone who outright purchases a car (even with a loan) indicates to me more of a commitment to the brand than a lease…

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      “I’d love to see dual columns on sales – actual sales and lease numbers. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but someone who outright purchases a car (even with a loan) indicates to me more of a commitment to the brand than a lease…”

      You might not have meant it this way, but this sounds a bit like a desperate attempt to attach even a smidgeon of snobbery and exclusivity to these “starter kit” luxury cars.

      “My kind BUY, their kind LEASE”

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        No real snobbery intended….with the exception of our Volvo (premium, not luxury), my handful of “luxury” cars have all been bought second hand. Personally unless your car is a business-related lease, I think one is much better served by buying a car outright so at the end of payments you have something of value to trade in or maintain and drive ad nauseam without having to make continued payments. With tires and oil changes, nearly everything out there today can make 150-200k without breathing hard.

        FWIW the dual columns would be helpful for all sales genres….

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Every premium car maker mostly leases their cars today. Which only makes sense, most premium car buyers buy a new car every 3-4 years anyway, and leasing is the most efficient way to accomplish that – less money up front, smaller outlay every month. It’s meaningless, and it baffles me that so many here read anything into it.

      I was leaning towards leasing my M235i until I found out my state has changed the tax laws such that it is less advantageous than it used to be. I may still, depending on the exact lease deal when the time comes to sign the papers in a few months.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        “Every premium car maker mostly leases their cars today. Which only makes sense, most premium car buyers buy a new car every 3-4 years anyway, and leasing is the most efficient way to accomplish that – less money up front, smaller outlay every month. It’s meaningless, and it baffles me that so many here read anything into it.”

        Exactly! Leasing has its advantages, and it assures that there will be a steady flow of fodder for the used-premium car market so those of lower incomes can also afford to drive a premium car, albeit a used one.

        As an as!de, I have noticed more old people leasing instead of buying, and mostly non-premium cars like Camry, Altima, Accord, Sonata, Legacy, Escape, CR-V, RAV4, and even a Honda Fit.

        • 0 avatar
          hreardon

          highdesert –

          My parents and their friends are entering retirement and what’s interesting to me is the number of them who are choosing to rent homes instead of downsizing into condos or smaller owned homes. Same for cars – they’re leasing and not buying.

          My take is that it’s a way to preserve capital.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            hreardon, yes, I think you nailed it. But I would like to add from my own perspective at age 68 that it is also a way to ensure redistribution of personal wealth to heirs before one kicks the bucket.

            It is not unusual for seniors to make a sizeable gift in cash or chattel to family members. Happens all the time. I’m guilty of it myself even on my meager income.

            Once life insurances are paid up in full, cars and houses paid for, health insurances covered, preserving capital is what’s left.

            Many people cash out of their houses and properties if their kids don’t want or need them, convert all assets to cash, rent a small condo, townhouse or apartment and then live worry-free until their number’s called.

            Different folks have different reasons but most of them share that common goal of preserving capital.

  • avatar
    gasser

    I just can’t understand how people can spend that $$ on a Nissan with a Mercedes emblem. At least the C class seems like a solid Benz. The line between upper trim levels of mainstream cars and “entry level” luxury vehicles is blurring rapidly. As the mainstreams add more luxury features and better interiors, I am leaning more toward leasing whatever vehicle some manufacturer is blowing out at the time I need it. Almost everything today will be reasonably trouble free for 3/36 and the test drive will tell me if I can live with it for 3 years.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Verano is holding on way better than I thought it would with the A3 and CLA coming out – reference TTAC earlier Cain piece on how the Verano is a player in this segment and was the landslide sales leader in category

    • 0 avatar
      Fred

      Heck given the amount of vitrol slung at the ILX it’s doing okay.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      A Verano lease is $199/month with $3,089 due at signing. A CLA250 lease is $329/month with $3,623 due at signing. Veranos start at $23,305. Not sure how that makes them competitors in the new $300 German lease category.

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        I also don’t see them as competitors. The Verano appeals to those who, for whatever reason, don’t want a European car. The people I’ve met who have Veranos and Regals don’t see themselves as Euro buyers. It’s not in their self-image.

        Same thing with Audi/BMW/Mercedes buyers. They just don’t see themselves buying a Buick, even if it has similar specs (and low-low-low prices).
        As much as people claim to be rationally shopping specs and features, they end-up buying emotionally. It has to feel right.

      • 0 avatar
        05lgt

        You had a point until you added the word “German”. It kind of falls apart there. When the “hallowed” German brands go his low for their entry level they stop competing in their traditional space and are in competition with, among many others, the ILX, IS, and (looking at features and size instead of price)the Verano. Only comparing German cars to German cars would do us a disservice as readers of TTAC.

        • 0 avatar
          APaGttH

          This – and complaints that the Verano is not a player here should be directed to Mr Cain

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            Are you a parrot? This explains much.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            I think that the Verano is a player, based on specs. It happens to appeal to different buyers.

            Same story with a Passat and an Altima, for instance. Similar specs, but most shoppers in that category will have a strong preference for one or the other. Not sure why that is, but it’s definitely not a bad thing.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            HH, I am a proponent of “the more the merrier” and as such I like the selection available to new car buyers.

            We should rejoice in that we have a choice, and let the economics of the market place sort out which automaker remains standing and which ones die.

            And in case an American automaker should die, there are always bailouts, handouts and nationalization.

            It was done before. It will be done again. Such is precedence.

            The Verano is a player because it constitutes choice to the die-hard GM buyers.

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          The point was that these cars are for people that want them because they’re German brands at $300 a month. An Accord is an infinitely better car than the Germans can make for $45K, let alone $32K. The reason it isn’t getting cross-shopped is all about the badge, and only the badge. The CLA has nothing in common with the cars that made Mercedes-Benz desirable other than the badge. Just listen to a CLA idle and you’ll know that the kid that signed the lease didn’t compare it to anything else.

          The IS doesn’t belong in this group. It competes with standard German compacts like the C-class and 3-series, which it is better than in every way other than transmission availability.

          • 0 avatar
            05lgt

            I really shouldn’t let my wish that there were no such things as $300/mo German lease shoppers get in the way of seeing that there are such people. VW’s germanity doesn’t seem to help them much in the US. I do wonder if/how long it is until Mercedes, Audi and even BMW slip that far in US shoppers eyes.

          • 0 avatar
            RobertRyan

            The weird thing the. Ford Falcon is now being outsold by the Mercedes CLA in Australia

          • 0 avatar
            bd2

            90% of IS shoppers opt for the IS250 (despite being underpowered as it is) and the CLA’s ATP is right there with the IS250 – so, there is probably a good bit of cross-shopping going on there.

            As there is with the ATS, as the ATS doesn’t really have more interior room as the CLA and A3, which has been a major issue.

            The CLA has quite a bit higher ATP than the A3, but that will change some as the A3 gets its performance variants.

            And no, the IS is NOT better than the 3 Series or the C Class (which is by far the leader in interior quality).

            Heck, the ATS is seen by many as being better than the IS (certainly is the more dynamic driver).

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      Got all the way to the end of the replies to your comment and everyone mentions “German” without acknowledging that the Buick Verano is really just an Opel Astra (German)…

  • avatar
    Sjalabais

    Articles like this are the #1 reason I return to TTAC for. Great presentation, every single time, Timothy!

  • avatar
    Luke42

    For some perspective, 2800ish sales per month is about 75% of the number of Mazda 6 sales, about 10% of the Camry or the Accord and about 1% of the mid size car market.

    Many would say I’m comparing apples to oranges, since there is presumably still segmentation within the mid size car market and many people assume that buyers are loyal to their segment. But these segments are all part of the bigger market picture, so viewing them in isolation is just one of several useful ways to look at it.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      That’s the risk hey cary in chasing volume this low in the market. Without the brand’s luster they end up in direct competition with some much bigger fish in a head to head value comparison.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      Good points, Luke42.

      And that’s exactly why there’s no point arguing that an Accord provides better value. These small German luxury cars are for the 10% of the market that doesn’t want an Accord or Camry. Perhaps they’ve already experienced them, or perhaps they want to drive a nice car for a few years before baby seats and strollers require something bigger. Good for them.

    • 0 avatar
      kovakp

      Luke42,

      Your first sentence makes you my Super Best Friend. As always, anything German is a tempest in a teapot. And a sorrowful fraud once it’s off lease if not before.

  • avatar
    smartascii

    Having driven both of these cars, I pretty much guarantee you that the only reason the CLA is selling in the volume that it does is that there are a significant number of people who want to drive a new Mercedes and who also can afford the lease payment. It’s a pretty terrible car for what it costs, and anybody who’s paying attention to the materials, fit and finish, and driving experience knows it’s the cheapest thing on the showroom floor. The A3 feels more (to me) like a premium car – it’s just really small. And there is definitely a market for small, nimble premium cars (see: Mini).

  • avatar
    mike978

    Anyone have an idea why CLA sales by May had fallen significantly? If we had discussed this back then it would have seemed clear that the A3 was taking sales away from the CLA. But the CLA recovers to parity as Tim mentions. Just seems an odd drop in the middle of the year.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    What’s with the November spike in CLA sales?

    Weird.


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