Bloomberg News

BMW Expects to Maintain U.S. Luxury Sales Lead Going Into 2012

October 20, 2011

Oct. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, poised to become the best-selling luxury brand in the U.S. this year, can keep the spot in 2012’s first quarter as it introduces its redesigned 3-Series sedan.

“We have a window to stay No. 1 in the first quarter,” Ludwig Willisch, who took over BMW’s North American operations Oct. 1, said in an interview yesterday in New York. “Our model lineup is broad. We have a lot of opportunities to get there.”

The BMW brand and Mercedes have been fighting to take the luxury sales crown away from Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus, which has been the annual leader for 11 years. BMW ended September in the lead with 177,679 sales while Mercedes is in second place with 170,058. Those results exclude Daimler’s Sprinter vans and Smart cars and BMW’s Mini brand, which aren’t luxury vehicles.

Willisch’s remarks run counter to those of his predecessor, Jim O’Donnell, who said in an August interview that BMW will probably be outsold by Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz early next year before the redesigned 3-Series hits U.S. dealerships.

Updated Mercedes C-Class models went on sale last quarter while BMW is still selling older 3-Series compacts. The 3-Series is slated to hit U.S. showrooms in March or April, BMW says.

“In the first quarter of next year, I would say Mercedes” will be No. 1, O’Donnell said in August. “Mercedes going into 2012 in the first quarter will be in a strong position. Over the course of the year, we still should be ahead of Mercedes.”

Not Conceding

BMW isn’t conceding 2012’s first quarter, Willisch said.

“We’re not going to ask our customers to buy another brand,” he said yesterday in an interview at BMW’s dealership on 57th Street in Manhattan.

Lexus, in third place, saw sales fall 16 percent this year to 135,647, hindered by a lack of inventory after the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan reduced output of vehicles.

BMW’s sales success over the past year has been driven by the redesigned 5-Series sedan and X3 sport-utility vehicle.

The 3-Series relies on leasing, and sales are slowing as it nears the end of its product cycle, said Jesse Toprak, an industry analyst with TrueCar.com, a Santa Monica, California- based website that tracks auto sales.

“From the product-lifecycle perspective in terms of leases, it’s a little long-in-tooth,” he said.

U.S. sales of the 3-Series sedan, coupe, convertible and wagon fell 3.9 percent this year through September compared with last year, according to researcher Autodata Corp. The compact line accounts for more than half of the brand’s U.S. car deliveries.

The BMW-Mercedes competition is playing out worldwide. BMW is the global leader followed by Volkswagen AG’s Audi brand and Mercedes. Daimler’s target is to be the top luxury seller globally by 2020.

Willisch, 55, comes to BMW’s Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, offices from a position as the head of European sales. He has also run BMW’s M performance brand and led sales units in Germany, Japan and Sweden.

--Editors: Bill Koenig, Jamie Butters

To contact the reporter on this story: Tim Higgins in New York at thiggins21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net


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