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BMW a First-Rate Seller Among County’s Luxury Autos

BMW Group is poised to be the top-selling luxury automaker in San Diego County during 2011.

BMW dealers sold 3,320 new cars locally from January to November, beating Mercedes-Benz USA LLC, which sold 2,790, according to data from the New Car Dealers Association San Diego County. Full-year statistics are expected later in the month, said the association’s Lance Roberts.

BMW “squeaked ahead of Mercedes and Lexus,” said Tom Brecht, owner and general manager of BMW of Escondido. Lexus is part of Toyota Motor Corp.

“San Diego County has always been good for BMW,” said Brecht. Between 2010 and 2011, Brecht estimated his store increased sales by 7 percent, though he added that 2011 figures were preliminary.

Jeff Gerken, general manager of BMW South County in El Cajon, reported a “significant increase” in business during 2011. Sales were up 34 percent year-over-year at his store, Gerken said.

During the same 11 months, Lexus sold 2,662 cars in San Diego County, Audi sold 1,423 and Infiniti sold 1,230, according to the New Car Dealers Association. Audi is part of Volkswagen AG while Infiniti is part of Nissan Motor Co.

Close Competition

Nationally, BMW and Mercedes have been neck and neck. New Jersey-based Autodata Corp. estimated that BMW sold 247,907 units in 2011 while Mercedes sold 261,769. Bloomberg News, however, reported that BMW beat Mercedes in the number of luxury cars sold. The Bloomberg account put Mercedes’ U.S. deliveries at 245,192, saying it did not count the Mercedes line of vans.

Angelo Damante, owner and general manager of Mercedes-Benz of Escondido, cautioned against reading too much into the BMW and Mercedes race, saying comparisons can be superficial. The two makes are very different when it comes to ride, handling and safety, Damante said.

Each has its loyalists, he added.

Damante said he sold more autos in 2011 than in 2010, but added that sales figures are not back to where they were previously.

“I’m cautiously optimistic for the future,” Damante said, though he said it may be two more years before the market reaches “what I would call normal.”

Luxury auto sales are “slowly coming back,” said Brecht. He acknowledged that 2011 sales are “not close” to 2008 figures.

Fresh Rollouts

Despite the downturn, BMW has worked to “keep things fresh,” Brecht said. Gerken echoed that sentiment, saying BMW did not cut back on development budgets when the recession hit in 2008.

Both BMW dealers mentioned the recently introduced 5 Series sedan, and Gerken noted the German carmaker came out with its mid-sized X3. BMW calls it a “sport activity vehicle” rather than a sport utility vehicle, Gerken said.

BMW is heading into 2012 with a new 3 Series sedan, which it showed off at the recent Detroit auto show with the help of three Olympic athletes. The 3 Series accounts for some 40 percent of BMW sales in San Diego County and in the nation at large, Gerken said.

BMW has a talent for serving customers throughout their life, Gerken said, accommodating people from their late 20s to their late 70s. The automaker even has a couple of “midlife crisis” models, he said, with a laugh.

BMW distinguishes itself in the luxury market by offering full maintenance for four years or 50,000 miles, Brecht added, saying it is a benefit other luxury brands don’t offer.

Lexus was reportedly hampered by Japanese production problems in the wake of the March earthquake and tsunamis. Autodata reported Lexus sold 198,552 units in the United States for the entire year, down from 229,329 in 2010.

However, not everyone wants luxury.

Lexus’ parent company reported sales of 1.45 million relatively plain vanilla Toyotas during 2011.

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