There was a time when the U.S. sales race between Mercedes and BMW was a close one. That is not the case anymore. Mercedes took a large lead over its German rival over the course of the first three months of the year.
Mercedes sales rose 0.1% in the period from January through March to 86,660. BMW’s sales were higher by 3.0% to 73,835.
As has been the case across the wider industry, Mercedes sales were driven higher by sport utility vehicle and crossover demand. Dietmar Exler, president and CEO of MBUSA, said:
While winter storms in our Northeast region certainly impacted our totals, we continue to see strong gains for our GLC, GLA and S-Class model lines. We expect strong SUV demand, combined with our diverse product line up, to help propel additional growth in the second quarter.
GLA sales were up 10.3% to 6,524. It is the entry-level Mercedes SUV, with a base price of $33,400. Mercedes uses the vehicle as a way to get people who might not be able to afford its cars as customers, hoping to upgrade them to more expensive vehicles over time.
The GLC is the Mercedes midpriced SUV. Its sales rose 81.6% in the first quarter to 16,260. The model has a base price of $40,050, which still makes it “affordable” for many drivers who aspire to be luxury car owners.
BMW’s primary problem through the first three months of 2018 is that its entry-level SUV has sold poorly. Sales of the X3 dropped 20.5% to 10,782. Its base price is $41,000. BMW does have a smaller SUV that it launched recently. The X1 has a base price of $33,900. Its sales were up 13.1% to 8,251, but BMW lists the X1 as a passenger car.
Both BMW and Mercedes have to do well in the SUV market, particularly the low end. They have stiff competition, primarily from Audi and Toyota’s Lexus luxury car brand.
The number of competitors in this growing part of the market makes it all the more important the BMW picks up its game.