How BMW Sort of Lied Its Way into the No 1 Luxury Sales Spot in the US, Again

2016 BMW 7 Series 1 photo
Photo: BMW US/edited by autoevolution
For some peculiar reason, the U.S. branch of BMW is addicted to grandeur, whether it comes to being number one in sales, production capacity or brand prestige. I'm not saying this to make fun of the situation, but I did notice a pattern emerging in the last few years.
No, I'm not wearing a tin foil hat when writing this, but it does look like there's a high-level conspiracy going on at BMW of North America, and in many ways, it's not unlike what the Piech dictatorship did to Volkswagen over the years.

In short, BMW NA needs to be number 1 in everything, and by any means necessary, including cheating. Of course, “cheating” is probably too big of a word for what BMW did, since the carmaker didn't actually go outside the law when you think about it, but lying through omission is still a bit law-bending.

What omissions am I blabbering about, you ask? Well, it's simple. BMW of North America simply forgot to mention that a few thousand cars reported as sold in 2015 were in fact bought by BMW dealers, not BMW customers.

So-called “loaner programs” involve a number of new cars bought by dealers. Those loaner fleets are mostly kept at the customers' discretion, who get to drive them while their own cars are in the shop.

This strategy is not something new for the Bavarian carmaker, as some folks think that the U.S. luxury sales crown was won in a similar manner back in 2012 as well. BMW is not alone in this either because every self-respecting premium carmaker uses decked-out loaners to show off the carmakers' latest tech while customers await their cars to return from service. None of those amount to numbers as high as BMW of North America, though.

For example, BMW went to such extremes last year that it paid its dealers up to $1,750 a pop in December to put newer and better-equipped models in their loaner fleets. Usually, mostly BMW Z4 and 7 Series customers get to use those, since they're “niche” clients, but the Bavarians upped the ante so much in this regard that if it hadn't, the 2015 U.S. luxury sales crown would have been snatched by Lexus, who after “official” sales data actually came in second, before Mercedes-Benz.

In fact, according to data logged by IHS Automotive, the top three best-sold premium carmakers in the U.S. were, in order, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, not the other way around. Lexus apparently managed to sell 340,392 vehicles in 2015, Mercedes-Benz sold 337,288 units, and BMW came in third, with 335,259 cars sold.

At this point, you're probably wondering why these numbers are important, and why you are spending so much time reading about them. Well, the short answer would be to keep yourself informed, but the longer one involves the lengths at which some carmakers go to keep their shareholders happy. And there aren't many things that please shareholders more than high numbers and press releases that mention “No 1” in the title.

The extra loaners that BMW seems to have accumulated on U.S. dealer lots will eventually end up in some customers' hands for good, being sold as “retired courtesy cars” and priced accordingly. The problem is that BMW has already counted them as being sold last year, even though most of them are still owned by BMW dealerships for about a year or more after they were originally bought for the loaner service fleet.

Don't look at this as a scam, though, as both Mercedes-Benz and Lexus (and others) inflate their annual sales numbers in a similar way. The only difference is that, at least in 2015, BMW seems to have had a no holds barred strategy, beating its two major sales rivals in consumer incentives and discounts as well just to hunt for that extra sale.

In the end, the average customer couldn't care less who went on top in the sales race at the end of the year as long as they have the car they want. In fact, most would probably prefer to see fewer identical cars to their own on the street, or at least in the mall parking lot.

So, being the best-sold carmaker is not such a good bragging reason, but some still go to great lengths to pursue this title. Is it worth it, though? I, for one, couldn't care less if my favorite brands sold the most units of their products as long as they don't go out of business selling too few of them, and I'm guessing most of you are the same.
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About the author: Alex Oagana
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Alex handled his first real steering wheel at the age of five (on a field) and started practicing "Scandinavian Flicks" at 14 (on non-public gravel roads). Following his time at the University of Journalism, he landed his first real job at the local franchise of Top Gear magazine a few years before Mircea (Panait). Not long after, Alex entered the New Media realm with the project.
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