Mercedes Overtakes BMW for U.S. Luxury-Car Crown

'The 2011 luxury-sales race might as well be a battle of the deal-seekers versus the trend-setters,' said Edmunds.com analyst Ivan Drury.

Mercedes-Benz overtook rival BMW to snatch the crown of best-selling luxury brand in the United States after an incentive-fueled race to the finish of 2011, industry data showed Wednesday.

With the champion of the past 11 years -- Toyota's Lexus -- hobbled by the fallout from Japan's devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the two Teutonic giants went head-on to snatch the highly visible symbol of automotive supremacy.

Neither German automaker had reported their sales results as expected by end of business Wednesday, but Autodata released estimates using data gleaned from a "credible industry source."

Mercedes extended November's massive gains to post a 28% jump in December sales and end the year with sales up 16% at 261,846 vehicles, Autodata estimated.

BMW sales rose 16% in December, to end the year with sales up 13% at an estimated 248,073 vehicles.

Lexus finished a distant third as 2011 sales dropped 13% to 198,552.

"The 2011 luxury-sales race might as well be a battle of the deal-seekers versus the trend-setters," said Edmunds.com analyst Ivan Drury.

"In one corner, you have great deals available on BMW's remaining 2011 3-Series vehicles, and in the other corner is a fresher product with the 2012 C-Class."

But since luxury-car buyers notoriously crave the newest models and the new BMW 3 Series won't hit showrooms for at least two months, Mercedes-Benz had the advantage.

BMW raised its incentive spending more than $200 to $3,694 per vehicle sold from November to December, while Mercedes' average spend remained virtually flat at $3,174, Edmunds.com found.

The average discount percentage on a new BMW in December was 11.2% off the sticker price, compared to 9.5% for a new Mercedes, the automotive website determined.

The bragging rights the crown brings can help in future sales.

"The marketing guys love it. You can use it in advertising. So that makes it worth pursing," Joe Phillippi, an independent industry analyst, told AFP in a recent interview.

Lexus, like many Japanese automakers, was hurt when Japan's massive earthquake forced parts makers to shut down for weeks, disrupting the supply chain of the Japanese auto industry.

But Phillippi said the country's triple disaster wasn't the only reason for the Lexus decline.

Both Mercedes and BMW have invested heavily in new vehicles designed to fit into more market niches, he said. Lexus has not kept pace. And the rise of Audi also has cut into Lexus's market share, he said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011

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