Mercedes extends luxury sales lead in bid to unseat BMW

A Mercedes-Benz GLC 250 at the Moscow auto show in August. A jump in global deliveries of SUVs and crossovers helped Mercedes increase sales almost twice as fast as BMW in the first nine months. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

Mercedes-Benz extended its lead in a race with BMW for the luxury-car sales crown, as a series of new models position it to overtake its rival for the first time in a decade.

A jump in deliveries of SUVs and crossovers helped Mercedes increase sales almost twice as fast as BMW in the first nine months, expanding the Daimler AG unit's lead to 57,985 cars, according to data released by the manufacturers.

Mercedes is poised to achieve its 2020 target of unseating BMW AG's namesake brand as the world's biggest seller of premium vehicles already this year, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said this week, which would put Mercedes back on top for the first time since 2005.

Mercedes is winning over customers with a recently updated lineup of trendy models that appeal to younger buyers, including the GLC coupe and compact GLA sport utility vehicle.

BMW is responding with a revamp of its 5-Series business sedan to rival Mercedes's popular E-Class, adding new self-driving features that control speed, help drivers stay in lane and keep distance to nearby cars.

The 5-Series, set to hit showrooms in February, will range from a four-cylinder hybrid plug-in that can drive 45 kilometers on a single charge, to a more powerful eight-cylinder gasoline version, BMW said in a statement on Thursday.

The car is critical for BMW after an overhaul of its top-of-the-line 7-Series sedan received a muted response.

BMW has downplayed the impending loss of the No. 1 spot, shifting its view to maximizing profit and fund investments in new technologies.

"Profitability remains our primary focus," BMW's head of sales Ian Robertson said in a statement on Thursday.

New entrants

Luxury-car makers are racing to compete on self-driving innovations while also having to spend more on developing electric cars to meet increasingly tough emissions regulation.

BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen AG's Audi brand last month outlined a major push into electric cars, which will add to their research-and-development costs. After hiking investment in plants, equipment and new technology from a peak this year, Daimler plans to rein back spending in the years ahead, CEO Zetsche said this week.

BMW's global deliveries rose 9.4 percent to 197,419 cars in September, boosting the nine-month total by 6 percent to 1.48 million vehicles, the company said in a statement.

By comparison, Mercedes's sales jumped 12.1 percent to 211,286 vehicles in September, lifting the total by 11.7 percent to 1.54 million, according to a separate statement. Audi slipped further back in third place with year-to-date deliveries of 1.41 million cars, a 4.5 percent gain.

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