My semiannual look at "true" luxury sales produced an interesting result this year: The leader in luxury-brand sales for the first half of 2003 was also the leader in actual luxury sales.
In the overall brand competition, BMW Division edged Lexus by 1,312 sales for the first half. Looking only at true luxury sales, BMW beat Lincoln by 5,268.
So what's the difference? I consider true luxury vehicles to be those with a sticker price of $42,000 or more, including optional equipment. It used to be $40,000. But, hey, all the good stuff is going up these days - filet mignon, Heineken beer, Armani attire.
These days, every luxury line except Porsche and Hummer peddles a lower-priced line or two, and those "bargain buys" often are the brand's best sellers. Take, for instance, the BMW 3 series and Mercedes-Benz C class. The Lexus ES 300 and IS 300 are well below $42,000, and the top-volume RX 300/330 is a split line - some are under $42,000 and some top that threshold.
At Cadillac, the entry-level CTS accounts for 27.0 percent of the division's sales, cutting its true luxury ratio to 73 percent. But Cadillac isn't complaining. The CTS outsells its predecessor, the Opel-based Catera, by a 5-to-1 margin.
Of the top-selling luxury brands, Lincoln has the highest ratio of true luxury sales. All Lincolns except a few six-cylinder LS sedans go out the door at $42,000 or more.
Jaguar is the best example of how a lower-priced line shapes a make's status. Jaguar this year is about 50-50 in the over-under $42,000 ranking. Before the launch of the X-Type, it was 100 percent true luxury.