Lexus, trailing in sales, leads in luxury registrations

Mark Clothier
Bloomberg News

Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus is ahead of BMW and Mercedes-Benz in U.S. registrations of luxury vehicles this year through April. The results are a reverse of the order based on the brands’ sales figures, reinforcing that 2015 should be a tight, three-way race.

Those registration numbers show 106,549 for Lexus, 103,581 for the BMW brand and 103,393 for Mercedes, according to IHS Automotive, which collects the data from state records.

Sales reported by the automakers for the four-month period showed Daimler AG’s Mercedes with 107,344, BMW AG’s namesake brand with 105,444 and Lexus, with its new NX compact crossover, with 103,056. Registrations trail sales data by about 40 days, said Tom Libby, an IHS analyst in Southfield.

“We’ve been seeing a gradual return by Lexus since 2011,” Libby said in an interview. “But now they’re out with NX in the hottest segment in the luxury market. That has really put them right back in the mix.”

Luxury-auto sales are outpacing U.S. industry gains as BMW, Lexus and Mercedes lure buyers from mainstream brands with lower-priced models, such as the $34,480 Lexus NX sport utility vehicle and the $31,500 Mercedes CLA coupe.

The wealth effect, whether created by higher investment values or actual income gains, is helping drive demand for luxury vehicles, said Lacey Plache, chief economist at The proliferation of entry-level models has intensified the trend.

“The expansion into lower price points is really drawing a lot of people who wanted to own a luxury vehicle but didn’t have the means to afford one,” she said.

The discrepancy between registrations and sales is because vehicles can be reported as sold when delivered to dealerships instead of only to consumers, Libby said. Sales are reported immediately and month-to-month differences are often smoothed over time, he said.

The sales and registration figures exclude Daimler’s Sprinter vans and Smart cars and BMW’s Mini brand, which aren’t luxury vehicles.