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Mercedes poised to pass Lexus for U.S. market lead

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Mercedes poised to pass Lexus for U.S. market lead

BMW also gains on recall-battered Toyota premium brand

July 23, 2010 11:00 CET

(Bloomberg) – Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz may take over the top position among luxury brands in the United States after a decade of dominance by Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus. The Japanese carmaker has been marred by record recalls this year for flaws across its lineup.

In the first half of this year, U.S. deliveries of Lexus models grew 19 percent to 107,430, while Mercedes-Benz jumped 25 percent to 106,972. Lexus's market share may dip to 1.98 percent this year from 2.1 percent in 2009, falling behind both Mercedes-Benz and BMG AG, according to auto-industry researcher Edmunds.com. BMW, the world's top-selling luxury auto brand, sold 100,632 units this year through June in the U.S. market.

“It's very likely Mercedes-Benz may take over the lead this year,” said Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends for researcher Truecar.com in Santa Monica, California. “The cumulative impact of all the recalls hasn't really shown up yet. It's more likely to be seen in the second half.”

Problems including fuel leaks, engines that may stall and vehicles at risk of rolling over during emergency driving maneuvers surfaced after Toyota had already recalled more than 8 million vehicles under its main brand for defects linked to unintended acceleration.

“It will be a battle,” Jim Lentz, president of Toyota's U.S. sales unit, said in an interview in Torrance, California. “The Lexus customer is really discerning about quality issues.”

Jessica Caldwell, a senior analyst at Santa Monica, California,-based Edmunds.com, said Lexus, Mercedes and BMW are "really neck and neck” in the U.S.

“There is a big opportunity there for the Germans,” she added.

Lexus's U.S. sales growth dropped to 2.7 percent in June while Mercedes-Benz, the second-biggest premium vehicle line globally, posted a 25 percent gain and BMW delivered 15 percent more cars.

BMW lineup

Markus Sagemann, a spokesman for Munich-based BMW, declined to comment on whether the carmaker is benefiting from Lexus's woes. BMW sales are growing because “our model lineup is very strong, and we'll continue to boost it,” he said. “Globally, we'll have replaced 60 percent of our models by 2012.”

The German brands are also benefiting from a higher rate of leasing among U.S. customers than Lexus, Truecar.com's Toprak said. More than 60 percent of Mercedes-Benz vehicles are leased, compared with less than 30 percent of Lexus vehicles, he said.

Mercedes C-class cars, the brand's top-seller in the U.S. and a competitor to the Lexus ES sedan, have been “particularly well received” this year, said Jim Hossack, an industry analyst at researcher AutoPacific Inc. in Tustin, California.

Sales of Mercedes's E-class sedan, introduced last year, more than doubled to 27,778 in the first half compared with a year earlier. BMW this year revamped its 5-series sedans, which compete with Mercedes E class and the Lexus GS, as the Japanese brand works to fix an engine flaw that's affected its model.

In the first half of 2009, Lexus appeared poised to fall behind BMW in the United States, with sales of 90,060 compared with BMW's 93,563. Lexus ended the year with a 19,473-unit lead over BMW, retaining its sales crown for the 10th straight year.

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100723/ANE/100729944/1448#ixzz0uVzKcOZT

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By Mark Kleis

For the last 10 years, luxury car buyers in the U.S. have flocked to Lexus dealers more than any other single luxury brand. But analysis of this year’s sales data shows that Lexus’ stronghold on the once-mighty U.S. market may be slipping to both of its German rivals.

As a report by Bloomberg points out, Lexus has managed to sell 107,430 cars in the U.S. so far in 2010 – compared to a nail-bitingly close 106,972 vehicles by its next biggest rival, Mercedes-Benz. As if that wasn’t enough for Lexus to worry about, BMW has managed to sell 100,632 cars in the U.S. through June, 2010.

Another factor to consider is trending based on increases and declines. For example, Lexus deliveries in 2010 are up 19 percent compared to 2009, where Mercedes-Benz is up 25 percent, with Lexus expected to possibly dip below 2 percent market share – something it managed to avoid in 2009.

“It will be a battle,” said Jim Lentz, president of Toyota North America during an interview with Bloomberg. “The Lexus customer is really discerning about quality issues.”

Although trends may show Mercedes-Benz in a strong position to overtake Lexus by the end of 2010, let it not be forgotten that BMW held a3,500 unit lead over Lexus during the first half of 2009, but later allowed Lexus to regain the lead by a solid 20,000 units sold.



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