BMW defends U.S. luxury crown

Europe

Deep-pocketed customers helped insulate the U.S. luxury market from the brunt of the pandemic fallout last year.

U.S. luxury sales fell 11 percent in 2020, compared with a 14 percent slide for the overall industry. Luxury brands delivered 2,030,912 vehicles, accounting for a record 13.9 percent of total U.S. light-vehicle sales.

BMW defended its sales crown as the bestselling luxury car brand in the U.S. for the second year in a row, while demand for hybrids and crossovers propelled Lexus to inch ahead of Mercedes-Benz.

Despite inventory shortages earlier in the year, BMW rallied to take pole position in 2020, reporting 278,732 deliveries, down 18 percent.

“There is no doubt that 2020 was a challenging year for automotive sales, but we have found that these challenges were due more to the circumstances, rather than consumer demand,” BMW North America CEO Bernhard Kuhnt said in a statement.

Lexus delivered 275,041 vehicles last year — outselling Mercedes by a mere 125 vehicles. Lexus’ hybrid sales rose nearly 2 percent in 2020.

Mercedes reported 274,916 U.S. sales last year, down 13 percent from 2019.

Tesla, which only releases global deliveries, is excluded from the results because the California electric vehicle maker does not provide model sales by country.

The market shift away from sedans is especially pronounced in the luxury segment, said Eric Ibara, director of residual values at Cox Automotive.

Luxury sedan sales fell 43 percent last year, vs. a 15 percent decline in overall car volume, Ibara noted.

“You don’t buy a luxury vehicle because you need transportation,” he said. “It’s a statement of status, and the SUV better conveys that.”

The luxury segment, like the overall industry, rallied in the second half of the year as the economy sputtered back to life following factory and dealership shutdowns due to the coronavirus.

Porsche Cars North America had its second-best year ever. The sports car brand delivered 57,294 vehicles — down 6.9 percent from 2019.

Globally, Swedish automaker Volvo had the strongest second-half sales performance in the company’s history, in 2020. U.S. sales in the second half rose 15 percent to 66,874 vehicles. Full-year deliveries were up 1.8 percent to 110,129, helping Volvo edge out its former Ford stablemate Lincoln.

Volvo’s U.S. sales picked up faster than those of its European competitors and the overall industry. Sales rebounded from the COVID-19 slump in June, and Volvo saw year-over-year gains in every month since.

“We decided early to be very aggressive in the southern part of the country,” Volvo Car USA CEO Anders Gustafsson told Automotive News in October. “So the first two or three months, the region was really the locomotive of the company.”

BMW saw its biggest sales gains in the final four months, after dealerships reopened and inventory levels improved.

BMW sold 98,750 vehicles in the fourth quarter, down 2 percent from the prior year. Light trucks, led by the X5 and X3 crossovers, accounted for 61.7 percent of the brand’s U.S. sales in the final quarter.

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