The Premium Plunge: Sales of the Most Popular Luxury Cars in America Are Nosediving

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
the premium plunge sales of the most popular luxury cars in america are nosediving

America’s record-breaking new vehicle sales volume in calendar year 2015 was powered in part by better-than-average growth from premium automakers.

Yet after BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Acura, and Cadillac all failed to match the rate of industry-wide expansion in 2015, the first four months of 2016 have revealed that even more top-level premium brands are fading as the market for new vehicles continues to expand. U.S. auto sales are up 3.4 percent in 2016. Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, BMW (the three top-ranked premium auto brands), Acura, Cadillac, and Infiniti posted declining sales in the first-third of 2016.

Largely at fault are the passenger car divisions at each brand, but a number of high-volume SUVs/crossovers that are failing to match last year’s first-third sales pace, as well.

BMW’s cars, for example, plunged 22 percent so far this year, but BMW’s best-selling utility vehicle, the X5, also lost more than 2,000 sales over the course of 2016’s first four months. At Cadillac, where car volume is down 15 percent in 2016, Escalade growth has stalled and the SRX’s transition (into the just-arriving XT5) resulted in a 15-percent year-over-year drop for Cadillac’s best-selling model. At Acura, a 3-percent car sales decline translates to 521 lost sales over the course of four months and MDX sales are down by 2,718 units.

Supply issues, recalls, and significant overhauls all work together, sometimes in concert with changing consumer tastes, to bring certain models down. In 2016, so great are their declines that premium brands have lost market share thanks to a modest sector-wide decline in sales.

These are the 15 most rapidly declining premium brand autos in the United States through the first four months of 2016. We’ve excluded from contention vehicles selling fewer than 1,000 copies per month to avoid the typically sharp fluctuations of low-volume vehicles.

RankVehicleApril 2016 YTDApril 2015 YTD% ChangeActual Lost Sales GS4,9907,615-34.5%2,625 XC605,1027,754-34.2%2,652 3 Series18,78127,086-30.7%8,305 A64,9776,951-28.4%1,974 IS11,47215,254-24.8%3,782 S-Class5,4967,065-22.2%1,569 ATS6,2547,943-21.3%1,689 GL-Class & GLS-Class6,8718,530-19.4%1,659 CLA-Class9,00510,896-17.4%1,891 CTS5,3086,362-16.6%1,054 SRX15,81818,684-15.3%2,866 C-Class23,48427,608-14.9%4,124 MDX16,68919,407-14.0%2,718 5-Series14,16416,359-13.4%2,195 X513,81415,846-12.8%2,032

Though it’s ranked third on this list, the BMW 3 Series’ 8,305-unit decline is most notable. 3 Series excluded, BMW USA’s sales are still down this year, but only 2 percent. 3 Series included, BMW volume is down by more than 9 percent to begin 2016.

Numerous 3 Series rivals have also taken harsh tumbles. The Lexus IS, Cadillac ATS, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class — the latter is America’s top-selling premium brand passenger car this year — fell 25 percent, 21 percent, and 15 percent, respectively, in the first four months of 2016. Combined, the 3 Series, IS, ATS, C-Class, Volvo S60 and V60, BMW 4-Series, and Acura TLX lost 24,000 sales already this year.

Up a notch in size, the bigger brethren are also losing U.S. sales volume. The Acura RLX, Infiniti Q70, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class join with members of this group — Audi A6, Cadillac CTS, BMW 5 Series, top-ranked Lexus GS — in selling less often this year than last.

A number of Mercedes-Benz S-Class rivals also posted sharp declines in early 2016, but they did not generate the kind of volume required to make this ignominious list. Combined sales of the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Lexus LS, and Porsche Panamera are down 18 percent.

Less deserving of entry are two SUVs from Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac. With the GL-replacing Mercedes-Benz GLS more available, April sales jumped 36 percent to 2,991 units. But scarcity skewed the year-to-date tally in March, when GL/GLS sales fell 64 percent to only 858 units.

Meanwhile, the Cadillac SRX is also in a transition phase. Its replacement, the XT5, produced its first 304 sales in April. In 2015, sales of the SRX shot up 29 percent to best-ever results of nearly 70,000 sales as Cadillac began clearance of the departing model.

[Image Sources: BMW, Toyota, General Motors]

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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  • Pch101 Pch101 on May 17, 2016

    New vehicle sales are hitting new records and the average transaction price is close to $34k. The doomsday regulars who post here need to do less typing and more number crunching.

  • Mchan1 Mchan1 on May 17, 2016

    Why buy a luxury brand when 'normal' brands have better quality in its vehicles? One can buy something like a Honda/Toyota/Nissan/Mazda model vehicle with tech features and 'luxury' type items that are Included as Standard equipment. Many 'luxury' brands make people buy 'options' to include such items that the non-luxury vehicles include as standard. What a total ripoff! If one wants to buy a luxury brand, mainly to satisfy one's EGO, then, by all means, do so. The rest of us want some Value in our vehicles and can use that money saved, instead of buying a luxury vehicle, for something else like putting the money into investments or retirement.

    • See 2 previous
    • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on May 17, 2016

      @bd2 This is true. But people like above who shout Value with a capital V are not the right customer who understands the product.

  • Allamericanred Interesting that as a car design nut that hates most American Suv designs that I think it is a pretty good design that stands apart but is not odd. The color really impacts how it looks to me. Some just do not work
  • NormSV650 I had a 2014 Vsport back in the day. It have a quiver feeling over some bumps in turns. Currently have a 2018 CT6 it is very solid and a great driver's car for the size.
  • NormSV650 I had a 2014 Vsport back in the day. It have a quiver feeling over some bumps in turns. Currently have a 2018 CT6 it is very solid and a great driver's car for the size.
  • MaintenanceCosts I saw my first IS500 out in the wild today (a dark-grey-on-black example) and it struck me that it was much more AMG-like than this product. (Great-looking and -sounding car.)
  • ToolGuy https://youtu.be/Jd0io1zktqI
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