For the fourth year in a row, Lexus was the best-selling luxury brand in 2003. But once again, Lexus was an also-ran in the sale of true luxury cars and light trucks. Cadillac was the winner in that reckoning.
OK, it sounds confusing, but the explanation is simple: Every marque in the U.S. luxury segment except Porsche and Hummer sells vehicles that do not meet the Automotive News benchmark of a $40,000 sticker price, including freight and popular options.
Why $40,000? Because that is the figure the federal government used in assessing the luxury tax. The tax died Dec. 31, 2002, but the number lives on in this tabulation.
Cadillac bested Mercedes-Benz by a scant 933 sales of true luxury vehicles. Cadillac also won in 2002, but its margin over second-place Mercedes was much greater: 3,041 sales. Cadillac's edge slipped because it sold a lot more CTS sedans in 2003, and the popular CTS sells for several thousand dollars less than $40,000. The CTS-V is a $50,000 item, but it wasn't on the market in 2003.
Lincoln was third in the 2003 true luxury standings. Lincoln was far behind Lexus, BMW, Mercedes and Cadillac in total sales, but nearly every Lincoln (95.8 percent) went out the door for $40,000 or more.
Lexus was fourth in true luxury sales, and BMW was fifth with 135,545. No other brand sold as many as 39,000 vehicles with $40,000 price tags.
Lexus led the full luxury class with 259,755 deliveries last year, but Lexus is big in cars and trucks that go for less than $40,000. The ES 330 and IS 300 are in that group and so are a lot of the RX 330 sport wagons, which are by far Lexus' best-selling vehicles. Likewise, the Mercedes C class and the BMW 3 series cut the true luxury sales for those makes.
Looking at percentage of over-$40,000 sales, Porsche and Hummer are in command; all their sales meet the price criterion. Next in line are Lincoln, 95.8 percent; Cadillac, 77.1 percent; Mercedes-Benz, 75.8 percent; and Jaguar, 70.6 percent.