BMW drops to 3rd place in global luxury sales race during January

MUNICH (Bloomberg) — BMW lost ground in the luxury-car sales race in January, dropping to third place as Mercedes-Benz moved closer to a goal of unseating its rival this year.

Global deliveries of BMW AG’s namesake brand rose 7.5 percent in January to 133,883 cars, lagging behind Mercedes’s 20 percent leap to 150,814 cars. While Audi had the slowest growth of the world’s three biggest upscale car brands, with sales rising 4 percent, the Volkswagen AG unit still outsold BMW with 143,150 vehicles.

The sales data shows the shifting fortunes of the top luxury-auto companies. Daimler AG’s Mercedes, a laggard for a number of years, is passing competitors after overhauling its lineup. All-new models and a renewed offering of popular and lucrative sport utility vehicles such as the GLE are also helping the brand sidestep a general slowdown in China, the biggest car market. Meanwhile, BMW’s growth has trailed its competitor even as the company added the likes of the revamped 7-series sedan to its lineup.

“Despite many markets showing continuing volatility, we remain optimistic,” Ian Robertson, BMW’s head of sales, said in a statement Wednesday.

Sales of BMW’s flagship 7 series, in showrooms since October, reached 3,392 vehicles last month, less than half the 8,473 deliveries for the competing S class. The Mercedes sedan has been on the market in its current iteration for about three years, though the sales figures include the newer coupe and ultraluxury Maybach versions as well.

The slow ramp-up for BMW’s top-of-the-line vehicle, which featured a much-vaunted gesture control function, shows the Bavarian company’s struggle to come up with fresh ideas after years of leading the competition with rugged SUVs and expanding into new segments. Recent lineup additions include two vanlike models, the 2-series Active Tourer and Gran Tourer, that sit awkwardly with the brand’s sporty image.

Low profile

BMW, which turns a century old in March, has kept a low profile since Harald Krueger, 50, took over as CEO last May. Krueger is scheduled to present the results of a strategic review next month.

“During the year of the jubilee, Krueger will want to try and show excellent results,” Frank Schwope, a Hanover, Germany-based analyst with NordLB, said in a report.

The change in momentum may see BMW lose its sales crown this year, according to forecaster IHS Automotive. The carmaker is yielding ground to Mercedes in China and introducing comparatively few new models. BMW’s January deliveries in China rose 8.4 percent to 43,441 autos, compared with a 52 percent gain to 42,671 cars for Mercedes.