Lexus steadily is gaining ground on rivals BMW and Mercedes Benz. If current sales trends continue Lexus will pass both of the luxury car icons’ US sales in this calendar year. Luxury and premium cars sell in numbers that are much smaller than conventional brands. For example, BMW in the month of April sold 25,202 vehicles in North America and Mercedes sold 25,887. Toyota’s Corolla (29,000) and Camry (38,000) models each outsell BMW and Mercedes individually in North America every month. This is not big news. What is big news is that Lexus’ growth rate of 18% year to date vs. last year to date, and its staggering 28% growth in April, is bending the curve to show an intersection with BMW’s and Mercedes’ sales rate some time later in 2014. In April Lexus sold 23,156 vehicles.
The main contributors to this change are the very car classes that BMW and Mercedes rely on most. Lexus’ IS line of compact sport sedans has more than doubled its sales rate since the new model was introduced. Although the BMW 3 and 4 series are still larger in sales, the Lexus cars are gaining fast. Worse news for BMW is that Lexus has not even introduced its 4 Series equivalent yet, called the RC, but is about to. The one-two punch of Lexus higher sales growth rate coupled with the introduction of the RC is all it might take for Lexus to pass BMW overall.
Mercedes has made a lot of noise about its new front-drive CLA class of compact sedans. Now in their second calendar year of sales, and into full production for many months, they barely sell. In April Mercedes sold less than 1,600 CLAs. This model is now the company’s introductory product. That is not the bad part. The real zinger is that in April Mercedes' previous introductory model, the rear-drive C class, sold only 5,114 units, down 2,224 cars from last year when the C class was the introductory Mercedes. Mercedes has succeeded in introducing a lower priced entry level model and sacrificed a higher priced car, and thousands of unit sales to do it. Congratulations Dr. Z.
That isn’t the end of the story. Lexus is planning to introduce a vehicle this fall that competes directly with the BMW X3 and Mercedes GLK compact/mid-size crossovers later this year. Called the NX 200t and NX 300h hybrid, the new line of premium crossovers will very quickly jump to multiple thousands of vehicles per month in sales. Nobody knows exactly what is to come in terms of exact sales figures, but by all indications the NX line will be successful for Lexus. The vehicle is also going to be a big profit maker for Lexus since it shares much of its basic parts with the RAV 4 (basic platform and transmission) and in the case of the hybrid, the entire drivetrain (shared with multiple medium volume hybrids).
All automakers had a good April. This was partly because of the incredibly cold winter in the US. However, the chill down the spine of Mercedes and BMW isn’t due to temperature.
*Note – In our analysis we do not combine BMW’s MINI, or Mercedes Sprinter and Smart brands into their overall sales, just as we did not combine Scion and Toyota into Lexus’.