Did BMW really win the luxury car sales race?

As anyone who follows our monthly By The Numbers series already knows, the luxury car sales race in the United States was close all of last year as BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz seesawed up and down for sales supremacy. At the end of the year, it was BMW on top of the standings with 346,023 total sales. Or was it?

According to data released by Polk, comparing the actual number of vehicles registered between the three top luxury players in the US paints a slightly different picture. Polk's data suggests that only 335,259 BMWs were registered in 2015, compared to 340,392 Lexus models. Why the disparity? It's all a matter of timing.

Actual end consumers buy new cars, in almost all cases, from a franchised dealer. BMW delivered 346,023 vehicles in 2015, but only 335,259 of them were registered by their new owners. Presumably, those 11,000 BMWs did (or will) end up registered in the driveways of consumers, but they hadn't before January 1, 2016.

Lexus General Manager Jeff Bracken wrote in an email to Automotive News, "Luxury sales leadership as measured by vehicle registrations is important to Lexus as it represents actual consumers engaging directly with our dealers." Of course, it goes without saying that we'll be paying keen attention to the 2016 luxury car sales race as it unfolds. If it's anything like it was in 2015, it'll come down to the wire, and even then may not be entirely clear.

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