In a riff on the old saying about “beauty being in the eye of the beholder,” it looks like sales leadership in the highly competitive luxury market is in the numbers. At least, that is what it looks like at this point. Last month, BMW jumped up and reported that it had taken the sales crown away from Lexus for 2015, based on its sales reporting. However, when the R.L. Polk Co., the de facto “keeper of the registrations” issued its report yesterday, Lexus had turned up the winner.
It seems that the variance is attributable to the number of registrations reported by states versus the number of sales reported by dealers. Polk analyst Tom Libby noted in Automotive News yesterday that the reason for the discrepancy is attributable to the variance in sales and registrations. The difference is due to the lag between the sale of a vehicle and its registration. “It’s two different methodologies. Sales are aggregated from what dealers report to the manufacturer. We get registrations from each state’s department of motor vehicles offices. The timing is different.”
Though the difference in figures is slight, the position is what matters in the high-stakes game of luxury car bragging rights. The ability to report that a manufacturer is the market leader is an important issue to BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, the leading luxury manufacturers over the last few years. That was why BMW jumped at the chance to report it had sold 346,023 cars in 2015. The figures were 1,422 cars higher than Lexus and 2,935 more than Mercedes-Benz. Polk’s figures tell another story. Based on registrations, Lexus was firmly in the lead with 340,392 vehicles to BMW’s 335,259.
Lexus believes that the number of registrations is the key. “Luxury sales leadership as measured by vehicle registrations is important to Lexus as it represents actual consumers engaging directly with our dealers,” Lexus General Manager Jeff Bracken told Automotive News in an email. On the other hand, BMW said that many “factors influence registrations, and as a result, registrations often lag sales, especially at the end of the year,” Kenn Sparks, a spokesman for the automaker said.
For the year, the difference between sales reporting and registration reporting, according to R.L. Polk, a unit of IHS Automotive, was:
- BMW: 10,764
- Lexus: 4,209
- Mercedes-Benz: 8,396
For years, the luxury sales crown has bounced between manufacturers since 1997. From 1970 to 1997, Cadillac was the leader in luxury sales. In 1998, Automotive News indicated, Mercury took the crown. Since 1998, imported brands have led in sales. Lexus led sales from 2000 to 2011 with Mercedes-Benz leading in 1999 and 2013. BMW took the top position in 2011, 2012 and 2014. The automakers have traded barbs about the importance of the top spot for years.