Since as far back as 2000 Lexus has been the top-selling luxury brand in the U.S., a positioned it appeared the Toyota premium division would be to hold on for years to come. Despite top marks in dependability and satisfaction surveys, Lexus has conceded its number one spot to BMW based on year-to-date sales, and could be opening the door to the year-end tally as well.

The last time BMW was the top-selling luxury brand for a full year was back in 1997. This year, however, Lexus is suffering from a sales decline of 37.2%, according to data compiled by Autodata Corp. BMW sales are down this year as well but not as severely as those of Lexus, with the German automaker’s figures dipping 30.5% to 76,819 for the first five months of the year, which is slightly ahead of Lexus's 73,186.

"We have been seeing, all year, customers remain cautious, and when they shop for premium products, they are buying brands that have a history of value, dependability and enduring quality," BMW’s U.S. chief Jim O'Donnell told The Detroit News. "This has helped sales in our core 3-series, 5-series and X5 range."

Toyota Motor Sales' John McCandless was somewhat less optimistic with his commentary. "Volumes can vary," he said. "Meeting the needs of our customers is what's important."

The battle for 2009 is not over however, as Lexus has recently launched its new RX SUV and the new HS 250h compact hybrid is also due to hit the streets in coming months. The worst performance luxury brands, incidentally, were Bentley and Maybach, both of which are experiencing sales declines in excess of 60%.

A host of other luxury brands are outperforming the market too, reports Automotive News. Audi, Jaguar-Land Rover, and Porsche have all picked up market share as part of a European surge to 8.5% of the market from last year's 7.4%.