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SALES TALES: Move over, Lexus; BMW leads in luxury

By John K. Teahen Jr.

This monthly sales report is a gold mine for the lover of automotive facts and figures. Every number has a story to tell. Here are some of those stories.

Luxury leaders
Sales of new cars and light trucks over $42,000 by luxury-segment brands for the first 6 months of 2003


The best
BMW Div.78,30165.5

The rest
Land Rover10,03156.2
*Automotive News estimate

Automotive News / August 11, 2003
My semiannual look at "true" luxury sales produced an interesting result this year: The leader in luxury-brand sales for the first half of 2003 was also the leader in actual luxury sales.

In the overall brand competition, BMW Division edged Lexus by 1,312 sales for the first half. Looking only at true luxury sales, BMW beat Lincoln by 5,268.

So what's the difference? I consider true luxury vehicles to be those with a sticker price of $42,000 or more, including optional equipment. It used to be $40,000. But, hey, all the good stuff is going up these days - filet mignon, Heineken beer, Armani attire.

These days, every luxury line except Porsche and Hummer peddles a lower-priced line or two, and those "bargain buys" often are the brand's best sellers. Take, for instance, the BMW 3 series and Mercedes-Benz C class. The Lexus ES 300 and IS 300 are well below $42,000, and the top-volume RX 300/330 is a split line - some are under $42,000 and some top that threshold.

At Cadillac, the entry-level CTS accounts for 27.0 percent of the division's sales, cutting its true luxury ratio to 73 percent. But Cadillac isn't complaining. The CTS outsells its predecessor, the Opel-based Catera, by a 5-to-1 margin.

Of the top-selling luxury brands, Lincoln has the highest ratio of true luxury sales. All Lincolns except a few six-cylinder LS sedans go out the door at $42,000 or more.

Jaguar is the best example of how a lower-priced line shapes a make's status. Jaguar this year is about 50-50 in the over-under $42,000 ranking. Before the launch of the X-Type, it was 100 percent true luxury.

Raining on Ford's parade

There's a battle royal brewing in the full-sized pickup segment. Ho hum. There's always a battle in big pickups - Ford Division vs. Chevy. Ford Division vs. Chevy/GMC, etc.

But this one is different. You see, Ford gave a party and it didn't invite Chevy. Now, Chevy is determined to spoil the party.

The party is the introduction of the redesigned Ford F-150 pickup, the nation's best-selling vehicle. The new Fords are beginning to arrive at dealerships, but production volumes won't be up to speed for a while. So to fill the gap, Ford will build the F-150 Heritage, a 2003 model with a 2004 designation.

So those smart kids at Chevy marketing thought, "Wouldn't it be great to spoil Ford's intro party by outselling the F series!"

In July, Chevrolet did exactly that. The count was Chevrolet Silverado, 72,116; Ford F series, 69,812. It was the first time since last December that the Silverado had topped the F series. Look for the two leaders to pull out every gadget in the marketing toolbox as the months roll by.

Ford, incidentally, isn't in danger of losing the full year. The F series led the Silverado by 77,776 units for the first seven months.

Pacing the floor

Seven months of 2003 have gone by, and in only one of them have car and truck sales exceeded the 2002 total. That was May, which brought a 4.3 percent increase. But despite those six "loser" months, the year-to-date total after seven months was down only 2.2 percent.

Turning to the numbers box, that's a dip of 220,518 sales, or about 1,000 a day. That's not a disaster, but 1,000 sales a day is about $25 million a day in lost revenue.

And all of that $25 million - and more - came out of the Big 3's pockets. Big 3 sales were down 289,119 for seven months; import sales were up 68,601.

That's why Big 3 executives are wearing furrows in their deep-pile carpets as they pace the halls at night.

You can e-mail John K. Teahen Jr. at [email protected]
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