Fight For Top Of Luxury Charts Heats Up As BMW Closes On Mercedes, Lexus

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Toyota has had a rough year with its many recalls, but despite the troubles, managed to show a quarterly profit and even increase sales slightly in July. But BMW and Mercedes-Benz are pushing to claim the Japanese marque's title for most voluminous luxury manufacturer in the U.S.

Mercedes-Benz's growth of seven percent year-on-year for July is better than Lexus' but falls well short of BMW's 16-percent rise. Both Mercedes and BMW have some distance to close on overall total sales, however, as Lexus has led for the past decade and continues to hold a 5,000-unit lead over Mercedes-Benz and 6,500-unit lead over BMW for the 2010 year-to-date, according to Automotive News.

The overall jump in sales of luxury cars marks a continued trend from the end of last year, which saw Audi, Infiniti, BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus all rise by at least 10 percent year-on-year over December. Figures from 2009 should be taken in context of the overall market downturn, however, which saw most carmakers dip by 15-20 percent for the entire year compared to 2008. That means the double-digit rises we're seeing this year are still coming up somewhat short of 2008 volumes--a sign the market hasn't completely recovered yet.

The brightest spot in the luxury market remains at Audi. Though it sells a bit less than half the total volume of BMW, Lexus, or Mercedes individually, Audi's 27.1 percent increase year-to-date marks a solid growth, behind only limited-volume luxury brands like Land Rover, Maserati, Rolls-Royce.

Porsche likewise posted strong results in July, up 75 percent year-on-year and 22.2 percent year-to-date with a total of 13,687 cars sold.

Losers so far this year include: Bentley, down 46.7 percent in July and 2.4 percent year-to-date; Volvo, down 32.9 percent in July and 10.1  percent for the year; and MINI, off its July 2009 performance by 11.2 percent and 2009 year-to-date by 1.9 percent. Saab, of course, is well off its 2009 sales figures with its near-death experience and transfer to Spyker, posting an 18.1 percent decline in July and a 69.5 percent drop year-to-date.

On the whole, however, the luxury market appears to be outperforming the general car industry, which is up 5.2 percent for July and 14.8 percent for the year.

[Auto News--sub. req., The Wall Street Journal]

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