Lexus claims a win

2015 registration data give brand a lead over BMW

2015 registration data give brand a lead over BMW

Lexus, which held the sales crown for 11 straight years through 2010 and has been clambering back in recent years, says it looks at registration data as a better barometer of retail sales to consumers.

Editor’s note: The 2015 Mercedes-Benz registration total in the table accompanying this story and data based on that total within this story are different than the figures in the Feb. 15 print edition of Automotive News. IHS revised the Mercedes figure to 337,288, up from 334,692 originally, after the print edition went to press.

Even the luxury auto universe has its Steve Harvey moments.

Last month, BMW was proclaimed the narrow winner of the 2015 U.S. luxury crown over Lexus and Mercedes, based on manufacturer-reported sales. But according to new-vehicle registration data released last week by IHS Automotive, it was Lexus that came out ahead.

It’s the latest twist in a hotly contested luxury sales race that had BMW, Mercedes and Lexus jockeying throughout the year and had Lexus executives miffed at year end when the brand missed the top spot by a mere 1,422 units.

Lexus, which held the sales crown for 11 straight years through 2010 and has been clambering back in recent years, says it looks at registration data as a better barometer of retail sales to consumers.

“Luxury sales leadership as measured by vehicle registrations is important to Lexus as it represents actual consumers engaging directly with our dealers,” Lexus General Manager Jeff Bracken said last week.

That’s the way Mercedes-Benz read the numbers for 2012, when it led luxury brands in registrations, even though BMW led in sales.

“As far as we’re concerned, we’re the leader in the luxury segment, at least when you’re talking about cars in customer hands,” Steve Cannon, then CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, said at the time. “Volumes can be manipulated. Registrations, not so easy.”

Mercedes accused BMW of padding its numbers with sales to dealers’ loaner fleets. BMW denied that, calling Mercedes a sore loser.

As a rule, vehicle sales and registration numbers never match because of the lag between vehicle purchases and when individual states issue registration documents, said Tom Libby, an analyst at IHS Automotive, which bought registration-data specialist Polk in 2013. “It’s two different methodologies,” he said.

The registration numbers are lower than reported sales for all three brands — by 4,209 for Lexus, 10,764 for BMW and 5,800 for Mercedes.

BMW spokesman Kenn Sparks said, “Many factors influence registrations, and as a result, registrations often lag sales, especially at the end of the year.”

Diana T. Kurylko contributed to this report.

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