Who Won? Lexus Or BMW?

Was the top selling luxury brand in America last year from Germany or Japan? The German company claimed the most sales. Not so fast, says new data that indicates Lexus might be top dog.

Based on the automakers’ self-reported data, BMW had the most sales. 346,023 ultimate driving machines were sold, versus 344,601 Lexus’s (a difference of 1,422). Mercedes-Benz took the number three spot with 343,087 (2,935 fewer than BMW) when commercial vans were excluded.

The discrepancy, however, comes from data on vehicle registrations, compiled by automotive market research firm Polk. Those numbers show Lexus on top with 340,392 and BMW at 335,259 (5,133 fewer), and Mercedes at 334,692 (5,700 fewer).

Did 10,764 BMW buyers purchase cars never to drive them? (Incidentally, so did 4,209 Lexus buyers and 8,396 Mercedes buyers) To explain the discrepancy, Polk analyst Tom Libby told Automotive News that purchases at the end of the year may not be registered until the beginning of the following year.

Presumably, then, some of the registrations counted towards 2015’s totals could come from 2014. Another factor could be sales from overseas customers who bring the cars back to their home countries, where such cars may not be readily available or subject to extraordinarily high tariffs.

Back in 2012, a similar brouhaha erupted when BMW claimed the sales crown but Polk showed Mercedes-Benz had 5,025 more registrations. Back then, Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Steve Cannon reminded us that, “Volumes can be manipulated. Registrations, not so easy.”

For the record, Audi and Acura rounded out the top five in registrations, with 197,821 and 177,226, respectively.

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