Editor’s note: IHS/Polk has revised the 2015 registration total for Mercedes-Benz to 337,288, up from 334,692 reported originally. The 3rd and 6th paragraphs have been revised to reflect that change.
Not so fast on BMW winning the 2015 U.S. luxury crown over Lexus and Mercedes.
According to manufacturer-reported sales released last month, BMW won. But Polk said today that Lexus was tops in U.S. vehicle registrations last year with 340,392 vs. BMW’s 335,259.
It’s a twist in the annual hotly contested luxury brand race, with BMW, Mercedes and Lexus jockeying throughout the year. On Jan. 5, BMW reported total 2015 sales of 346,023. That was 1,422 more than Lexus and 2,935 ahead of Mercedes (excluding Sprinter). Mercedes finished ahead of BMW in registrations, with 337,288.
“Luxury sales leadership as measured by vehicle registrations is important to Lexus as it represents actual consumers engaging directly with our dealers,” Lexus General Manager Jeff Bracken told Automotive News in an email.
BMW spokesman Kenn Sparks said, “Many factors influence registrations, and as a result, registrations often lag sales, especially at the end of the year.”
The U.S. registration numbers from Polk, a unit of IHS Automotive, are lower than reported sales for all three brands: By 4,209 for Lexus, 5,800 for Mercedes, and 10,764 for BMW.
Vehicle sales and registrations never match because of the lag between vehicle purchases and individual states issuing registration documents, said Polk analyst Tom Libby.
“It’s two different methodologies,” he said. “Sales data are aggregated from what dealers report to the manufacturer. We get the registrations from each state’s department of motor vehicles offices. The timing is different.”
Cadillac owned the U.S. luxury sales crown from 1970 to 1997 and Lincoln finished on top in 1998. But foreign brands have dominated since then. Mercedes claimed the sales title in 1999 and 2013, Lexus 11 years from 2000 to 2010 and BMW in 2011, 2012 and 2014.
BMW’s claim to the 2012 luxury-brand crown was disputed by Mercedes-Benz after Polk later reported Mercedes had 5,025 more registrations than BMW. The two German automakers had traded barbs for weeks after BMW had reported a huge December sales surge to claim the title.
Then Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Steve Cannon fired the final shot in that spat: “We're the leader in the luxury segment, at least when you're talking about cars in customer hands,” he huffed. “Volumes can be manipulated. Registrations, not so easy.”
Diana T. Kurylko contributed to this report.