BMW wears the 2011 true-luxury crown
John K. Teahen Jr. is senior editor of Automotive News
Comes now the time to separate the men from the boys in the luxury segment of the market. The men are the true-luxury vehicles, those with sticker prices of $45,000 or more. The boys are the near-luxury cars and light trucks.
The latter are luxury units, no question about it, but they are perhaps not quite so lavishly appointed, and they take a bit less money out of a buyer's purse than their big brothers. Prices run from about $30,000 to $44,999.
Why $45,000 as the dividing line? Well, when there was a federal luxury tax on cars, the threshold was $40,000. The tax is long gone, but prices have continued to rise. Thus, I choose $45,000 as the 2011 point of delineation.
Despite their higher prices and greater overall dimensions, the true-luxury vehicles outsold the near-luxury cars and trucks last year, but it was close.
Automotive News found 730,611 true-luxury and 692,784 near-luxury sales in 2011. That's a total of 1,423,395, or 11 percent of last year's total sales of 12,778,885. Not bad in a rotten year for the auto industry in the United States, at least by historical standards.
Mercedes, BMW shine
A new leader -- BMW -- rushed to the fore in the overall luxury market. Mercedes-Benz also moved ahead of longtime leader Lexus.
The reason was the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011, shutting down all vehicle production at Japan's automakers for a while and keeping output below par for the rest of the year.
BMW was also the leader in the true-luxury classification, besting Mercedes by 10,440 sales.
Lexus was fifth. It never has been much of a factor in the true-luxury category; it is primarily a near-luxury brand. The best-selling Lexus model, the RX 350 crossover, is a near-luxury vehicle, and so are its two best-selling cars, the ES and the IS.
The two domestic luxury brands, Cadillac and Lincoln, fared so-so in the true-luxury competition. Cadillac was third, behind BMW and Mercedes-Benz, but Lincoln was a lowly 10th among the brands considered.
Near luxury: Lexus
Both Cadillac and Lincoln were affected by the growing shift to near-luxury vehicles. Most sales of the Cadillac CTS sedan, coupe and wagon, and SRX crossover are in that class, likewise for the Lincoln MKZ sedan and MKX crossover.
Looking at the near-luxury group separately, the sales laurels go to Lexus with 142,495 deliveries, and the major reason is the RX 350 with deliveries of 82,595.
The best-selling overall luxury vehicle in the nation was the BMW 3 series with sales of 94,371, followed by the RX 350, and the Mercedes-Benz C class with sales of 69,314.
Last year's sales made 11 brands and Chevrolet's high-flying Corvette eligible for the true-luxury list.
In addition to the price restriction, the makes must sell at least 10,000 vehicles a year in the United States. In the price standard, factory rebates and other promotions are not considered. The sticker price is the determinant.
You can reach John K. Teahen Jr. at email@example.com.