Mercedes-Benz maintains lead over BMW

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Mercedes-Benz held off BMW again last month to preserve its substantial midyear lead in U.S. luxury auto sales. BMW’s CEO isn’t ready to accept being relegated to the second position.

Mercedes sold 28,994 cars and light trucks in the U.S. last month, a record for June and up 1.8 percent from a year ago. BMW eked out a gain of 0.4 percent and sold just 32 vehicles fewer than Mercedes, which has won five of the past six months. With Monday’s results, Mercedes retains a lead of about 12,900 vehicles this year.

Mercedes has been dominating U.S. luxury sales after snatching the crown from BMW as the world’s biggest seller of premium vehicles for the first time in a decade last year. It’s weathering the industry’s sales slowdown better than its rival with a recently updated lineup of trendy models that appeal to younger buyers.

After years of luxury automakers insisting sales volume isn’t the best way to evaluate them, BMW CEO Harald Krueger said last week he won’t accept losing to Mercedes.

“There shouldn’t be anybody else who’s No. 1,” Krueger told reporters during a visit to unveil a revamped version of its X3 SUV at a BMW plant in Spartanburg, S.C. “You can’t be the No. 1 company in the world if you’re not No. 1 in the U.S.”

Americans’ waning appetite for passenger cars took a toll on industrywide U.S. sales in June. Total sales fell 3 percent for the month, according to the Automotive Newsdata center.

BMW’s June sales were buoyed by deliveries of its X4 and X5 SUVs, while sales of the 3-series sedan fell 25 percent. Mercedes continued to defy the industrywide rout in passenger cars with growth in its C-class sedan, which is up 14 percent this year. Sales of its GLE SUV jumped 6.8 percent in June.

“June was a great month for both passenger cars and vans,” Dietmar Exler, CEO of Mercedes’ U.S. sales unit, said in a statement. “We are in a good position for a strong second half of the year.”

BMW is trying to shake the perception that cautious styling decisions are contributing to market share losses against Mercedes. Krueger said last week that BMW “created” the luxury SUV segment with the introduction of the X3 and that he was on his way to New York to give his U.S. sales team a pep talk.

  Lexus was the worst performer among the top four luxury brands last month, with sales slipping 5.4 percent from a year earlier. Strong demand for luxury crossovers including Lexus’s NX failed to make up for plunging sedan deliveries. Lexus has sold 133,760 vehicles this year, a 12 percent decline from 2016.

Volkswagen AG’s Audi continued to gain on its larger luxury rivals. Deliveries jumped 5.3 percent to 19,416 vehicles in June, boosted by gains of 19 percent for the Q7 SUV and a surge for its A5 sedan, which is up by more than half so far this year.

 Gabrielle Coppola and Jamie Butters

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