BMW Overtakes Lexus in U.S. Sales

For four years running BMW has been the global leader in luxury vehicle sales. Now the German automaker has deposed Lexus as the bestselling luxury line in the U.S.

Lexus has held that distinction since 2000 but when BMW released its U.S. sales figures for June the six month tally of 93,563 topped Lexus’ sales by a margin of approximately 3,500 units sold.

Prior to Lexus another German automaker, Mercedes-Benz, held the title briefly in 1999. Before that, U.S. automakers had dominated the domestic luxury auto market with General Motors’ Cadillac outpacing all other manufacturers for well over a half century, from 1947 to 1997. Ford’s Lincoln brand lead the market in sales in 1998.   

BMW credits its recent success, in part, to its 1992 decision to build a 2.4 million square foot manufacturing facility in Greer, South Carolina. Toyotas’ Lexus line is manufactured in Japan and Canada.

The U.S. is the world’s largest automotive market and according to Max Metcalf, a spokesman for BMW, the company’s decision to gain a manufacturing foothold here was based on the understanding that this market would be important to the company’s future.

The Greer, SC facilities are the automakers only manufacturing in the U.S. and was the company’s first full-scale production facility to be located outside of Germany. Since 1992 the BMW has opened manufacturing plants in South Africa and England.

Amid the current upheaval in the auto industry it remains to be seen whether BMW can retain the title through the remainder of the year or whether impressive sales during the first half of 2009 will prove to be a temporary blip on the radar screen.

According to BMW spokesman, Jan Ehlen, states that ‘beating our competition is not our core goal,’ but adds that finishing out the year ahead of Lexus would be a ‘nice bonus.’

BMW has not been spared from the industry-wide drop in sales this year but their 28.9% decline is less severe than the overall average suffered by their competition in the U.S. market. Lexus, by comparison has seen its sales drop by 33.7% which is about the same as the U.S. market average. The net result is that BMW and Lexus currently controlling a 1.9% market share with BMW outselling the leading Japanese competitor by a razor thin margin.

BMW has expressed confidence that sales numbers will continue to gradually improve throughout the year.

Like their German counterpart, Lexus is downplaying the importance of being the bestselling automaker in the U.S. ‘ at least for now. John McCandless, a Lexus spokesman, recently commented that being the sales leader is not a stated goal for Toyota Motor Sales USA, Incorporated. According to McCandless, ‘volumes can vary’ and ‘meeting customer needs is what’s important.’

Lexus is counting on new models including the ISC convertible and the HS250h, the world’s first hybrid only sedan, to bolster sales later this year.

As for BMW, the company is currently undertaking a $750 million, 1.2 million square foot expansion of their Assembly facilities in Greer, SC to accommodate production of the next generation BMW X3 Sports Activity Vehicle.

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