BMW Has More Work To Do Than We Thought


Fans and pundits wonder if BMW lost its way.

In case you missed it, BMW surpassed Mercedes-Benz in US luxury vehicle sales last year, reclaiming the top spot for the first time since 2015. New passenger vehicle sales were up 4.4 percent through the year over 2018, finishing strong with a total of 324,826 units.

That performance provides some much-needed vindication for the German automaker, which has faced mounting concern from fans and pundits alike that it had "lost its way." CNBC raised the point just last week, calling into question whether BMW can indeed still lay claim to building the "ultimate driving machine," and citing the automaker's three years in the No. 2 luxury car spot as evidence.


That piece was quick to point out that while BMW hasn't reigned supreme in terms of outright sales volume over the past several years, it could claim dominance in other all-important metrics, such as cash flow and profitability. Still, market share matters, and CNBC invoked RBC analyst Tom Narayan's observation that Mercedes-Benz simply has more options for buyers looking to move up-market.

Now, that debate can be put to rest, as BMW has outsold Mercedes-Benz in the US market by a healthy 8,732 units - so long as you leave out sales of Mercedes' commercial vans, against which BMW has no direct competitors.


Granted, there's still the matter of the S.E.C.'s investigation into BMW, brought about by allegations that the German automaker has been artificially inflating its sales numbers by marking dealer loaner vehicles as "sold." It's an act known in the industry as "car punching," and it's tantamount to misleading investors. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles paid $40 million to settle a similar investigation last year, without admitting wrongdoing.

BMW's strengthened US sales performance in 2019 was largely thanks to increased availability of the US-built BMW X3, X5, and X7 "sport activity vehicles." Whether station wagons on stilts like those models can rightly be considered the "ultimate driving machine" is another matter.

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