While BMW USA Sales Fade, the Most and Least BMW-like Models Are Bright Spots

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
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while bmw usa sales fade the most and least bmw like models are bright spots

Forget last year’s record sales achievements in BMW USA’s showrooms. Through the first six months of 2016, sales at the BMW Group’s BMW brand are down 9 percent in the United States, a first-half pace which suggests BMW sales will fall to a three-year low even as the overall new vehicle market continues to grow.

Not only is BMW’s car division off last year’s pace by more than 20,000 sales, or 18 percent, the brand’s three most costly utility vehicles — X4, X5, X6 — are down 22 percent. Yes, the overall car market is fading, but BMW’s 22-percent car decline is far worse than the U.S. auto industry’s 8-percent drop in car sales. And the 24-percent decrease in, for instance, sales of the BMW X5 stands in stark contrast to the 8-percent increase in the overall SUV/crossover market.

There are nevertheless bright lights in the BMW lineup.

Among passenger cars, the one car that most clearly exemplifies BMW’s old Ultimate Driving Machine credo, the 2 Series, is the BMW car that’s growing fastest. By far.

Among crossovers, the BMW which most flies in the face of everything the BMW cognoscenti value about BMW, the X1, is the BMW SAV division’s fastest-growing vehicle. By far.


Combined U.S. sales of the BMW 2 Series and BMW X1 are up 88 percent through the first six months of 2016. One year ago, they earned less than 7 percent of BMW USA’s volume. This year, the 2 Series and X1 produce nearly 14 percent of BMW’s U.S. sales.

The 2 Series’ success comes as the majority of BMW’s vast car lineup fades. Aside from the newly launched sixth-generation 7 Series (up 7 percent to 5,605 units year-to-date), the 2 Series is the exception to the declining car rule in BMW’s showrooms. 3, 4, 5, 6, i3, i8, and Z4 volume is collectively down 24 percent, a significant loss worth 24,163 sales.

The 2 Series, however, is on pace for 22,000 sales in 2016 thanks to a 70-percent year-over-year increase through six months. The 2 Series and its 1 Series predecessor averaged 10,000 sales between 2008 and 2015 and peaked just north of 13,000 sales in 2010.

These aren’t inconsequential numbers. The 2 Series is now outselling the Scion FR-S, Subaru BRZ, and Nissan 370Z combined; outsold the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R combined in June; and easily outperformed the combined best efforts of the Alfa Romeo 4C, Audi TT, BMW Z4, Mercedes-Benz SLK, and Porsche Boxster/Cayman in the first-half of 2016.

Is the 2 Series the new 3 Series? Not quite. Though total 3 Series/4 Series volume is down 23 percent this year, the 2 Series’ bigger brethren are still outselling the 2 Series by nearly six-to-one. But the 2 Series is the rightful successor to the 3 Series of the ’80s and ’90s. While demand for more costly BMW cars fade, demand for this most BMW-esque of current BMWs is at an all-time high.


You still won’t be shocked to discover that BMW USA nevertheless sells more X1s than 2 Series coupes and convertibles. Based on a front-wheel-drive architecture shared with BMW’s Mini brand, the second-generation BMW X1 will, at its current rate of growth, report record annual U.S. sales volume by year’s end.

A front-wheel-drive BMW isn’t half as heretical to the typical X1 consumer as it is to the BMW aficionado who memorized the gear ratios of the E30 318i. Remember the story in 2010 that said the overwhelming majority of 1 Series owners didn’t know their car was driven from the rear? It seems highly unlikely that those buyers will care about the origins of their vehicle’s architecture, particularly when the overwhelming majority of X1 buyers opt for four driven wheels.

Compared with the first-half of 2015, X1 sales in 2016 have more than doubled to 12,139 units. Although the X4, X5, and X6 are all failing to match last year’s volume, the X1 isn’t alone in its BMW SAV gains. The BMW X3 has produce a substantial 49-percent gain and is likely to end the year with its highest-ever U.S. sales output.


Other than base prices, which differ by only $50, the BMW 2 Series and BMW X1 are strikingly different vehicles. One represents the BMW of the past, a BMW focused on driving and dynamics and performance. The other is at the heart of BMW’s future: affordable practicality with enough BMW trappings and suggestions of performance to bring together a buyer’s BMW’s aspirations with his need of useable space.

Outside of these two models, BMW USA lost 25,000 sales in the first-half of 2016.

The 2 Series and X1, the most BMW-like and least BMW-like models in the BMW brand’s lineup and the two BMWs with the lowest base prices, added 10,000 sales.

[Images: BMW USA]

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.

Timothy Cain
Timothy Cain

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4 of 65 comments
  • Jthorner Jthorner on Jul 21, 2016

    You could have just said: "BMW unit sales continue to collapse even as it pushed more of its lowest priced, lowest profit margin vehicles out the door. Many people who like to spend too much money on their fashion/image statement automotive purchases have moved on to other objects of envy." A great editor once told me: "Fewer words, more insight."

  • Driver123 Driver123 on Jul 22, 2016

    I think many of those who traditionally steered friends and relatives to BMW as well as magazine writers no longer do that. I owned 6 BMWs from M3 to 535 wagon and still own 2 but frankly no longer interested that much. They have grown in size, electric steering is very non-BMW, their cars just don't feel like true BMW anymore. Not Lexus just yet, but pretty undistinguishable from MB or Audi. Hey, my wife who NEVER liked BMW actually likes X3 now...

  • Analoggrotto I'm trying to find a way to bash this vehicle using the Telluride, ATPs , AVMs, DSDs or STDs and I'm still working on it... stay tuned.
  • God'stime nice
  • MaintenanceCosts Mercedes coupes should not have B-pillars and this one is dead to me because it has one.
  • EBFlex Pretty awesome this thread is almost universally against this pile of garbage. Tesla really missed the mark.
  • FreedMike I suppose that in some crowded city like Rome or Tokyo, there's a market for a luxurious pint-size car. I don't think they'll be able to give them away here in the U.S.