Key products coming in 2018 from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus

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An expanded product lineup has helped Mercedes-Benz spend two consecutive years atop the U.S. luxury market — and with another batch of new and redesigned vehicles arriving in 2018, the brand isn’t ready to relinquish that honor.

But rivals BMW and Lexus are looking for growth with key products coming to their own portfolios, setting up 2018 as a year of potential gains for luxury vehicles, despite forecasts for shrinking light-vehicle sales overall.

“We’ll still see a tight race,” said Stephanie Brinley, senior auto analyst with IHS Markit. But “2018 might be a difficult year in terms of gaining share against one another.”

IHS Markit is calling for about a 3 percent increase in U.S. luxury sales in 2018 while predicting total U.S. light-vehicle sales will decline 2 percent to 16.9 million vehicles.

Lower numbers

Mercedes handily won the crown in 2017 by 32,000 vehicles over No. 2 BMW. Mercedes’ back-to-back title came despite the brand’s 0.9 percent sales decline last year because BMW, Lexus and the overall luxury segment also posted lower numbers.

After winning four luxury sales titles in five years, BMW struggled in 2016 and 2017. Sales dropped 2.4 percent last year to 305,685 vehicles, down from a peak of 346,023 in 2015. The brand narrowly beat Lexus for the No. 2 spot in 2017. BMW earned some kudos from its dealers for tightening inventories, but SUV and crossover supply didn’t meet demand.

After dominating the luxury sales segment from 2000 to 2010, Lexus has been one of the runners-up ever since, and its sales fell 7.9 percent last year. Lexus executives like to point out that it led the 2015 luxury market in vehicle registrations, considered a better measure of consumer demand than reported sales. But Lexus fell behind Mercedes in registrations in 2016, according to IHS Markit. It remains well behind Mercedes through 11 months of 2017, though it is ahead of BMW.

Top 10 luxury brands

Mercedes-Benz was the top-selling luxury brand for the 2nd consecutive year, even though its sales declined slightly.
  2017 U.S. sales Change from 2016 2017 registrations (Jan.-Nov.)
Mercedes-Benz 337,246 –0.9% 294,467
BMW 305,685 –2.4% 269,144
Lexus 305,132 –7.9% 276,276
Audi 226,511 7.80% 199,945
Cadillac 156,440 –8% 143,711
Acura 154,602 –4.2% 140,831
Infiniti 153,415 11% 136,812
Lincoln 111,159 –0.5% 102,000
Volvo 81,507 –1.5% 73,175
Land Rover 74,739 1.20% 65,752
Source: Automotive News Data Center, IHS Markit

Mercedes’ biggest gains

Mercedes saw its biggest gains in 2017 from the E class, GLE midsize crossover and GLS large SUV. Aside from the redesigned E-class family, the brand’s car sales fell, while its crossover and SUV sales rose. Mercedes increased incentive spending by 7.3 percent in 2017, according to Autodata.

Going on sale this year are the redesigned CLS four-door coupe, redesigned G-class SUV, the new Mercedes-AMG 53 midrange performance line and the new A-class sedan. The redesigned GLE is expected at the end of the year or early 2019.

BMW, which has suffered from an aging product lineup, has several new and redesigned crossovers for 2018. It will have a full year of sales for the redesigned X3 compact crossover, which went on sale late last year. Arriving in 2018 are the new X2 crossover and the redesigned X4 and X5. U.S. sales of the X7 large SUV will begin in early 2019.

The brand’s biggest gains last year came from the redesigned 5 series, the 4 series and the X1 small crossover. BMW trimmed incentive spending by 20 percent last year, according to Autodata.

For Lexus, last year’s sales were hurt as it dropped the CT Hybrid and LS sales fell, General Manager Jeff Bracken said. The brand’s incentive spending rose 30 percent for the year, according to Autodata.

A three-row RX is trickling into showrooms and could contribute to an additional 15,000 sales this year, Bracken said. The RX L will be joined by a new-generation LS flagship sedan in February, and Lexus is setting a sales target of 1,000 a month for the LS.

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