By on April 8, 2021

Mercedes-Benz had an enviable first-quarter and managed to find itself back on top of U.S. luxury sales, icing out its chief rival BMW after two years of living in its shadow. Mercedes reportedly sold 78,256 vehicles within the first three months of 2021, thanks largely to its crossover vehicles.

It’s a year-over-year increase of 16 percent and helps to explain why the brand is relegating the CLS to a single trim while expanding its options for heavy hitters like the GLC Class. But Mercedes’ recent success may have more to do with the way the luxury segment is rebounding as a whole. As pedestrian models are finding themselves coming out of the pandemic with fewer customers, especially of the subprime variety, high-end luxury brands are enjoying clearer skies.

Passenger car sales were down roughly 10 percent last year (compared to 2019). But vehicles stickering for over $80,000 saw their sales doubling in the fourth quarter of 2020. Tyson Jominy, vice president for data analytics at J.D. Power, said things were going even better for cars priced over $100,000.

“There’s a fairly fantastic wealth effect going on,” he told CNN last week.

While the glorious feeling of knowing the rich are getting richer probably doesn’t extend to the single parent that’s trying to scrape together enough dough so their Nissan Sentra doesn’t get repossessed, Jominy’s right. The comeback for luxury brands has been going more smoothly than nameplates catering to regular folks, at least when you’re taking in the big picture. J.D. Power suggested crediting young wealthy people who haven’t had enough to do during lockdowns.

“[The] rich Millennial tech employee in Austin is now the archetype,” Jominy explained.

That terrifying sentence is likely true and probably explains why every brand is dumping billions into development programs designed to deliver the trendiest EV the world’s most brilliant minds can manage. Of course, the majority of the premium brands we have numbers for (Tesla doesn’t like to share) owe almost the entirety of their sales volume to internal combustion vehicles retailing well below six figures. For example, Mercedes’ best seller is the aforementioned GLC and it starts around $44,000. While you can absolutely configure one to surpass $80,000 with a minimum amount of effort, most people aren’t going to run straight to the V8-equipped AMG variant.

But it’s still an aspirational car and that’s where the money is likely to be. People who write code for a living aren’t the ones reeling from modern times. It’s the person who lost just their low-level job at the textile mill, plastics plant, or foundry. Many mainstream automotive manufactures saw quarterly volumes increase by more than double-digit percentage points in America, but they were cut a little deeper by the pandemic this time last year and domestic brands are still struggling rather badly (partially due to the semiconductor shortage). Dodge fared particularly poorly, losing roughly 28 percent of its previous Q1 volume. Ford only able to claim a 1 percent improvement against the first three months of 2020 and Chevrolet endured a modest, 2-percent sales loss that was offset for General Motors thanks to gains from GMC.

Mercedes’ 78,256 first-quarter sales pale in comparison to their overall volumes, but it still represents a 16 percent (year-over-year) gain for the company without including van sales. Meanwhile, Lexus saw Q1 deliveries improve by 32 percent with 74,253 units and BMW jumped 20 percent with 71,433 cars. Other premium brands also saw noticeable improvements — Acura, Audi, Cadillac, Porsche, and even Buick enjoyed substantial increases in volume against the previous period. This was almost universally supported by extremely high utility/crossover volumes. Even Genesis, which is heavily dependent upon its sedans, saw a whopping 108-percent gain in the first quarter due to the GV80.

Though not every premium name can have a permanent residence in Xanadu. Lamborghini and Ferrari ended 2020 with a bang, however, Rolls-Royce had a terrible year after enjoying a rather solid 2019. Of course, the first quarter of 2021 resulted in Rolls having a 62 percent (year-over-year) global improvement that resulted in its best-ever sales period. That helped to further juice BMW’s worldwide Q1 results of 560,500 deliveries, a 36 percent sales boost from the previous year.

Now seems a good time to be a purveyor of high-end automobiles.

[Image: Franz12/Shutterstock]

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19 Comments on “Rich People Are Finally Back On Top, Mercedes Takes U.S. Quarterly Sales Honors...”

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    There used to be one or two Mercedes vehicles that I could be interested at any given time over the past 40 years. Not anymore.

    Not only can I not afford them… but I wouldn’t buy any current Mercedes model if I had the money. If somehow I won a Mercedes, I would sell it rather than live with it.

    The same goes for BMW and most luxury brands.

    I know. Why don’t I tell you how I really feel, right? :)

    • 0 avatar

      The only Mercedes that I’m interested in is the Mercedes Metris van.

      It’s the only midsize van on the market, relatively speaking. It’s the new Chevy Astro van.

  • avatar

    Rich people dont buy FWD Mercedes, that make up the bulk of any Mercedes sales list.

  • avatar

    No surprises here. This was something that many people predicted in the early days of the pandemic. Buyers on the low end got pushed out of the market. Those in the middle and upper end on the other hand are finding themselves with extra money that they want to splurge on something nice for themselves.

    • 0 avatar

      I worked for Mercedes through the great 2008 recession. We posted sales gains and records every month for 2-3 years right through it and beyond. I don’t think they slowed until a few years ago.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Wait, you mean to say that the poor tend to be more effected by economic downturns than the wealthy and take longer to recover from those downturns? Boy am I shocked. And you people say there is no real journalisim on this site anymore.

    But I am curious, How much guilt should the buyer of these vehicles feel? Maybe you could toss a monetary value on that so that when Congress gets around to the next several trillion dollar stimulus they have some guidance on how much to write those checks for.

  • avatar

    Gee where is the “chip shortage” here?

  • avatar


    I thought Tesla had this “luxury” segment aced according to the Muskian altar kneelers. They’ve moved about 235,000 vehicles in 2020, near enough 59,000 per quarter. So not the largest seller, since both BMW and Mercedes sold more.

    Even so, it seems like a large bite of the sales segment which needs to be factored into commentary, even if the company is so big-headed as to not bother releasing numbers until a thorough fudging of what when and where units were sold has been undertaken, just to deke out the comp in somone’s demented mind or another.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      It won’t be settled until there is consensus on the meaning of ‘luxury’.

      Tesla’s ATP has dropped decidedly (on purpose) since the Model 3 was released, and some people claim the Spartan interior of the 3 and Y disqualify them as luxury cars.

      So perhaps price and interior appointments kept Tesla from being considered.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m not sure I’d classify the 3 and Y as luxury either, but there are a lot of other cars that are allegedly luxury or premium that I wouldn’t consider in that class either. For example, anything with molded fake leather grain hard plastic anywhere isn’t premium. I don’t care what the emblems are on the outside. One definition of luxury that I like is that all of the surfaces have to be either natural fabric or leather or real metal. I’d stretch that to include good quality fake leather. No fake chrome plastic or fake wood grain hard plastic or obvious vinyl. Even a spartan-looking interior like the 3 or Y I think is fine as long as the materials are the right grade. I remember the Bang and Olufson look and the 3 and Y sort of follow that style and I get it. But, it has to be done right.

        Oh, another thing that bothers me is cheap plastic vents. They need to be metal and better move like precision instruments. I don’t want cheap vents from an 18,000 dollar car on a premium car.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I’m here in a relatively “young” city (Houston) where the luxury brands are thick, especially from downtown out towards the west and southwest. Several things I’ve noticed – most are the lower end models with standard leatherette and sunroof. I’ll stick my neck out and guess the vast majority are leased., which to me is an endless cycle of non-ownership. I’m sure leasing makes sense for business purposes and write offs, of which I know very little.

    Sure I’d love a loaded GLS, up to around 60,000 miles.

  • avatar

    When Mercedes signified ‘quality,’ I wanted one, you know, to keep for a really long time. Today, Mercedes cars still possess quality, but many other vehicles have similar quality, and complexity can crowd-out quality if there are a lot of things (computer-wise) to can go wrong. Mercedes is now mostly about bling, signifying ‘I just made some money’ or perhaps ‘I want you to think I am rich so I leased this.’ The size of the three-pointed star on those things screams these messages. Mercedes create anger and jealously among the have-nots, and a Mercedes driver caught speeding gets little mercy from a state trooper.

  • avatar
    Polka King

    Remember how Cadillacs used to be a symbol of semi-responsible Negroes? Now it’s Mercedeses. My town is half-white and half-Negro and you can’t look in any direction without seeing Negroes in Mercedeses.

    • 0 avatar

      Can we try and restrict the racism to the F&I office at your local dealership? Thanks in advance.

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry, but I do not remember.

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry, but I do not remember that. But what I remember from 1990s and see also in Russian movies from early 2000s Dodge Durango was very popular prestige car (I assume it was associated with Texas Ranger). Chevy Tahoe was very popular among rich gangsters. Mercedes 600, Lincoln Navigator. Yes Escalade. BMW was more for yuppies than serious people with money who were riding black 600 limousine with cloud of black Tahoes with black tinted windows around it.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Get off the plane in Frankfurt. Whatever Mercedes being used by the taxi fleet is not, REPEAT NOT, a luxury vehicle. Most “American Mercedes fanbois are gnashing their teeth after reading that statement. However, MB Tex may be some of the finest material ever made for seats. I’ll move on before Slick Paleo and his partner Lisa Loubatains have doubts about their E Klasse. Sadly Mercedes will stop making the SL. Does this mean I’ll have to get an LC or C8 for my retirement years? Things I’ll have to worry about.

  • avatar

    If you want to see the worst of the US character read what a FOX news trumptard writes.

  • avatar

    I would encourage anyone considering purchasing this brand to check out the maintenance costs… As a current owner I can tell you that the bills don’t stop when the car is paid off. Ask your dealer what they charge for an “A” and “B” service.

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