Mercedes CLA sales shrink BMW's lead as luxury brands compete for entry-level

With a starting price less than $30,000, Mercedes With a starting price less than $30,000, Mercedes is depending upon the 2014 CLA coupe to lure entry-level buyers and boost sales. Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz USA

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Mercedes-Benz gained ground against larger luxury-car competitors Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Audi AG last month as the introduction of the CLA coupe helped demand almost double for the company’s compact models.

Sales by Mercedes, owned by Stuttgart, Germany-based Daimler AG, rose 16 percent from a year earlier in September to 143,000 cars and sport-utility vehicles. That beat a 7.6 percent jump at BMW and a 10 percent gain at Volkswagen AG’s Audi.

BMW, Audi and Mercedes are all targeting record global deliveries in 2013, seeking to attract buyers with new vehicles such as the CLA, the BMW 4-Series coupe and the sedan version of Audi’s A3 compact. Audi and Mercedes are competing to overtake Munich-based BMW as the world’s biggest luxury-car seller by the end of the decade.

“Mercedes is getting some tailwinds from its model cycle,” said Frank Biller, a Stuttgart-based analyst at LBBW. “The young products are pushing sales.” The Daimler unit probably also improved profit margins in the third quarter, reducing the gap with competitors earnings, he said.

Nine-month sales by Mercedes jumped 10 percent to 1.06 million cars and SUVs. The BMW brand’s deliveries in September totaled 158,000, pushing the nine-month figure up 9 percent to 1.21 million. Ingolstadt, Germany-based Audi reported a 7.6 percent nine-month increase to 1.18 million. Mercedes’s sales in the period amounted to 88 percent of BMW’s, narrowing the gap from 87 percent a year earlier. Audi’s sales difference with BMW widened to 98 percent from 99 percent.

Non-European Markets

The companies are focusing expansion in the growing auto markets of China, the U.S. and South America to make up for a sixth straight drop in annual industrywide sales in Europe. Nine-month Chinese deliveries rose 21 percent at Audi and 20 percent at BMW, while increasing 7.9 percent at Mercedes, which is revamping its sales network in the market.

Global growth at Mercedes was propelled by a 91 percent sales surge of compact models in September as the company added the four-door CLA to new versions of the A-Class car and the van-line B-Class, Daimler said in a statement last week. Mercedes is expanding in the segment with the small GLA SUV due in the showrooms early next year. The carmaker also revamped the up-market E-Class sedan in April.

Deliveries of BMW’s 3-Series car lineup increased 28 percent in the first nine months of the year, the company said today. A Gran Turismo version of the 3-Series went on sale in June. The company is also introducing diesel-powered models of the car in the U.S., where it began selling an all-wheel-drive version in 2012. Demand in China was boosted by a stretched 3- Series that entered showrooms in June 2012.

4-Series Introduction

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BMW began selling the 4-Series, which shares underpinnings with the 3-Series, in September. A new generation of the X5 SUV, built at BMW’s plant Spartanburg, S.C., is scheduled to enter dealerships in November.

“We have been able to keep our European sales on a similar level year-on-year, and once again reported major gains in the U.S. and Asia,” Ian Robertson, BMW’s head of sales and marketing, said in today’s statement. “We are therefore well on our way to another increase in deliveries for the full year 2013 and a new sales record.”

A3 Sedan

Audi plans on further gains after the A3 sedan reached the European market in September. The VW unit will begin selling the model in China in the second quarter of 2014. Audi predicts that the car will be the most popular variant of the A3 line, which also includes hatchback and convertible models.

Mercedes-Benz’s European deliveries rose 14 percent to 71,100 vehicles in September, with above-average gains in the U.K., Turkey and Russia, Daimler said. Chinese sales rose 21 percent to 20,400 cars and SUVs.

"The two main drivers of why the German luxury carmakers are so successful are internationalization and the broadening of the model lines,” said Marc-Rene Tonn, a Hamburg-based analyst with Warburg Research.

The luxury-car manufacturers are expanding production in China, the world’s biggest automotive market, and taking steps to begin vehicle assembly in Brazil to tap into the growing number of affluent consumers in South America’s biggest economy.

Mercedes will begin assembling the mid-sized C-Class and the GLA at a new plant in Iracemapolis, Brazil, in 2016. The move will follow BMW’s production start next year in Brazil’s southern state of Santa Catarina at a plant with capacity to build least 30,000 vehicles annually.

“I expect BMW to remain the No. 1 luxury carmaker for another couple of years,” said Frank Schwope, a Hanover, Germany-based analyst with NordLB. “They already have an advantage and it’s very likely that they will retain the lead, even if the gap to Audi and Mercedes might decrease.”

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