New CLA Is Helping Mercedes-Benz Run Away with US Luxury Crown

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In hindsight, it’s obvious that Mercedes-Benz left little to chance in its determination to wrest the US luxury-auto-sales crown from BMW this year. And now—benefiting from just-in-time launch of a hot new vehicle, from new dealership sales tactics, and even a little feint from the CEO—the brand is less than a month from confirming its victory.

Mercedes-Benz extended its US sales lead over BMW for the year to more than 7,600 vehicles after both luxury marques reported November sales this week, a huge tack-on from a lead of less than 5,000 vehicles at the end of October. More than likely the lead will be even bigger by the end of this month, a busy one in the premium segment anyway with by-now-traditional year-end promotional pushes.

No doubt the biggest factor in Mercedes’ ability to take the crown from BMW after the latter’s two-year reign will prove to be great reception by American consumers and fantastic timing for the September launch of CLA-Class, an entry-level luxury sedan with starting prices under $30,000 that appeared in a segment where demand is growing but there hasn’t been much available.[more]

Mercedes-Benz began creating buzz and demand for CLA with a commercial during the last Super Bowl, and by the time the car was actually available, awareness was high. Even more important, the car itself hasn’t disappointed. Mercedes sold 3,623 CLAs in November, its second full month of availability, while BMW sold only 699 of its entry-level coupe, the 1 Series, which starts at $31,500.

“People were skeptical as to how luxury consumers would receive a sub-$30,000 Mercedes,” Alec Gutierrez, a Kelley Blue Book auto analyst, told Bloomberg. “They did a phenomenal job of making it look like an upmarket, upscale small car without it looking like a smaller version of their bigger cars.”

Still, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche, when asked in July if he thought Mercedes-Benz could unseat BMW in the United States, said he believed his brand would come up a little short. Who knows what he actually might have thought at that point.

Yet even with CLA providing enough of a surge to the finish line on its own, Mercedes apparently is leaving little to chance this month. It is providing dealers with as much as $2,500 to please each buyer of the redesigned, much pricier S Class sedan, a new version of which also went on sale in September. Under a new program called MB Select, “the factory” is providing US dealers with the extra funds to quickly fix any problems with S Class—but also, if they desire, to use on perks such as free dinners for the customer.

Chalk up 2013 for Mercedes-Benz.

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