A BMW AG 320d Gran Turismo (GT) on show at the Seoul Motor Show in Goyang, South Korea, last week. BMW edged out its arch-rival, Mercedes-Benz, in US luxury auto sales in March. Photo: Bloomberg
BMW topped its rival in the US luxury auto market for the first time this year, eking out a monthly sales increase and gaining ground on Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz.

Deliveries of the X3 and X5 sport utility vehicles climbed 43 percent and 35 percent last month, respectively, pacing BMW’s total sales of 31015 vehicles. The Munich-based automaker outsold Mercedes by about 1900 units in March.

As plummeting demand for passenger cars led most automakers to miss analysts’ estimates last month, BMW managed to keep deliveries of its 3 Series and 5 Series models roughly flat compared with a year earlier. The victory in March pulled BMW to within 7500 vehicle sales of Mercedes through the first three months of the year.

Orders solid

“Our new BMW 5 Series is just breaking into what is a difficult market for sedans but orders are solid,” Bernhard Kuhnt, the chief executive of BMW’s North American unit, said. “With two more variants on their way, we are optimistic for the months ahead.”

BMW ceded the global sales title to Mercedes in 2016, falling behind its rival for the first time in years. Chief executive Harald Krueger is planning to respond by unveiling 40 vehicles over the next two years, the biggest roll-out of new and revamped models in BMW’s history.

Its sedan-heavy line-up has put it at a disadvantage in a market where Americans are increasingly opting for crossovers, said Michelle Krebs, an analyst with Autotrader.com. “BMW has sport utility vehicles, but it’s not its great strength,” she said.

Mercedes has sold 79141 vehicles in the US this year through to March, compared with BMW’s 71682 units. The laggard in the Mercedes line-up last month was the entry-level CLA coupé, with deliveries plunging 52percent.

Both manufacturers are focused on selling larger, higher-margin vehicles in order to help finance a push into electric self-driving vehicles. Mercedes last week said it was accelerating its roll-out of battery-powered models, with 10 new versions now due by 2022.

Volkswagen’s Audi said deliveries rose 1.7 percent to 18705 vehicles in March, boosted by an 18 percent increase for the Q5 SUV. Sales for Toyota’s Lexus line fell 7.5 percent. -