Mercedes played waiting game with BMW, Cannon says

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Mercedes-Benz USA was indeed playing a cat-and-mouse game with BMW when it delayed reporting its 2011 U.S. sales in a tight race to be the No. 1 luxury brand in the United States, CEO Steve Cannon admitted this morning during breakfast with Crain Communications editors and reporters.

"We were testing the numbers and the wire was waiting on a phone call. We wanted to see how far we could go," Cannon said. "It got a little silly -- we probably would not do that again."

Mercedes-Benz and BMW delayed reporting their December and year-end 2011 sales for a day, firing up speculation over possible hanky-panky. Instead of reporting on Jan. 4 when most other automakers did, the two German luxury brands waited until the next day.

BMW edged Mercedes-Benz with U.S. sales of 247,907 units. Mercedes reported sales of 245,192 vehicles.

The results officially ended Lexus' 11-year reign atop the U.S. luxury sales rankings. Mercedes won the title once, in 1999, before ceding the U.S. crown to Lexus. It was BMW's first.

"BMW had to see what our figures were first," so Mercedes-Benz held off reporting for as long as it could, Cannon said.

How important was the race? "We would love to be No. 1, but it doesn't sell cars. The media get a kick out of it for a week and we brag about it for a week and it would not matter anymore," Cannon said. "It would have been nice to lay it at the feet of our team."

You can reach Diana T. Kurylko at dkurylko@crain.com. -- Follow Diana on Twitter

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