Lexus revs for run at luxury title

Brisk sales of the NX compact crossover helped Lexus beat BMW and M-B in July.

Lexus reigned as the top-selling U.S. luxury brand for 11 straight years until 2011, when the tsunami that rocked Japan enabled BMW and Mercedes-Benz to zoom ahead.

Now, it’s revving up for a serious run at reclaiming the luxury crown.

Thanks to brisk sales of its compact crossover, the NX, Lexus in July bested both BMW and Mercedes in sales, just the fifth time it has done so since the summer of 2012. And it is likely to see a surge when the all-new 2016 RX begins arriving in showrooms by the end of the year.

A refreshed GS sport sedan also is due in the fall.

“It’ll be very interesting to see how the rest of the year plays out because so much of the new product that we have is starting to hit, now through the end of the calendar year,” said Jeff Bracken, Lexus general manager. “So it’s going to be a dogfight as we move through the balance of the year.”

Lexus is close enough to the German giants in year-to-date sales that a late run could lift it to the top spot. Through July, it trails Mercedes by fewer than 4,000 vehicles and BMW by fewer than 7,000. At this time last year, those gaps were nearly three times as large.

And the RX is the kind of rare, high-volume luxury model that can make a difference in the race. It is Lexus’ top-selling vehicle and only one of two nameplates in the luxury segment that have racked up annual sales of more than 100,000 vehicles. The other is the BMW 3 series.

“Lexus has pretty much come back with a vengeance against the German brands, and the RX is only going to add to that,” said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst at

Lexus is speeding ahead in large part because of its bet on the hot, small-crossover segment. So far this year, it has sold 24,386 NXs — nearly equal to the combined sales of the Cadillac ATS and CTS sedans. It’s all additional volume because this is the NX’s first year on the market.

“The incremental volume is really helping Lexus,” Caldwell said.

BMW and Mercedes-Benz also have fielded new small crossovers this year but have had less sensational sales. Sales of the Mercedes GLA have totaled 14,353 in the first seven months; BMW has sold 3,553 X4s.

Bracken said the NX sells for $34,000 to $35,000, a price point consumers can handle better than that of most cars in the luxury range. “There’s more volume there,” Bracken said.

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