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Mon, May 20, 2002 - Page 21 News List

BMW on pace to lead US luxury sales for first time


Bayerische Motoren Werke AG is on pace to pass Toyota Motor Corp's Lexus as the best-selling luxury automobile brand in the US this year, helped by new models such as the redesigned 7 Series sedans.

For the first four months, the German automaker pulled ahead of Lexus, with 78,386 cars and light trucks to 75,164. The Toyota brand has led US luxury sales the past two years. BMW has never been the annual leader.

BMW in recent years has "introduced lots of new models, staggered over time, and kept their lineup new," said Alan Baum, an analyst at Farmington Hills, Michigan-based automotive forecasting firm Planning Edge. "They've been impressive."

Gains of 55 percent for the 7 Series cars that debuted in the US this year and 14 percent for the X-5 sport-utility vehicle introduced last year have helped BMW. That builds on an expansion that doubled BMW sales in the five years through last year to 213,127 vehicles. Its growth has been twice the luxury-brand average for the past three years, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank.

The US increases are contributing to the Munich-based automaker's expectations that it will sell more than 1 million vehicles this year and exceed last year's record profit and sales.

"We're working flat out in most of our plants," BMW North America Chief Executive Officer Tom Purves said in an interview.

"We're ahead of our own plans this year and if we keep running at this pace we'll probably ask for more cars from other markets."

BMW has taken the US lead even as Lexus sales rose 6.9 percent through April from the year-ago period. Mercedes-Benz has increased 8 percent to 68,694 cars and light trucks.

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