Who's Your Number One?

As the word goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And so is the sales performance of the world's biggest players in the automotive industry, as reality shows.
S-Class vs. 7 Series 1 photo
Photo: Mercedes-Benz/BMW edited by autoevolution
The beginning of 2018 brought with it, as always, an avalanche of sales figures sent downhill by all carmakers. There is no surprise in that and we are all pretty much expecting it to happen, especially since 2017 has proven to be a very lucrative year.

For all intents and purposes, sales figures for 2017 have become a p*****g contest between the industry's behemoths, each using whatever subterfuge to proclaim itself as the ruler of the world when in comes to the number of new cars sent rolling down the streets in 2017.

In short, we have two number one carmakers in the premium segment, as well as two different number one automobile groups.

Mercedes-Benz is the No. 1 premium brand

The three-pointed star manufacturer reported 2.3 million cars sold last year. Internally, that translates into the company's seventh consecutive record year and “all-time best unit sales in Europe, Asia-Pacific and NAFTA.

Mind you, the aforementioned figure represents only the number of cars wearing the Mercedes-Benz logo and it does not include the smart brand. And it allowed Mercedes to snatch the prize right out of its biggest competitor's hands.

No, wait. BMW is the No. 1 premium brand

The Munich-based manufacturer claims it is the best selling premium manufacturer, meaning that Mercedes snatched zilch. BMW says it remains “the world's number one automotive company,” with over 2.4 million cars sold worldwide, including Mottorad and the BMW I.

It too boasts that this is the seventh consecutive record year, even if the core brand, BMW, was some 12,000 units short of selling 2.1 million cars.

Volkswagen is the world's biggest automotive group

Hit by a shameful emission scandal, Volkswagen still rules the automotive world, as it sold a total of 10,74 million vehicles worldwide in 2017. Sure, that includes over 200,000 Scania and MAN heavy trucks, but who's counting?

Renault-Nissan is counting. And that makes them no. 1

The Franco-Japanese alliance sold some 10.6 million cars last year, including Mitsubishi and AvtoVAZ. As they discard by default VW's claims at the top spot, on account of the Scania and MAN brands being included, that number actually makes them no. 1. “There can be no further discussion,” says Renault-Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn.

Does it matter?

So, who is right? Do we count only the core brand, to see who's who? Or do we include all the other brands, sub-brands, derivatives, local designations and so on? Do we go as far as to include in the statistics engine blocks sold? Do we even care?

The figures announced by the carmakers are at the core of every middle-school student's arguing competition. “BMW is No. number 1!” “In your dreams, lookie here, Benz has 300,000 plus more on the core brand!” “Y'all shut it, VW rules!” “Dudes, why y'all comparing apples and oranges?”

But that is all there is to it. Aside for an understandable desire to be better than one's competitor, this “I'm the best, because I'm counting” matters little when it comes to making a decision to buy this or that car.

Sure, more vehicles sold usually translate in a more reliable brand. But that would only count if BMW sold, say, 3 million more cars than Mercedes. Or if the difference between Renault-Nissan and VW would have been bigger than 100,000. A lot bigger.

The good news is that, regardless of the brand you choose to buy this year, you will probably be the proud owner of a number 1 car. 'Cause you say so.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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