UPDATE 1-BMW to stay No. 1 in US luxury cars thru '11-exec

Wed Oct 19, 2011 5:14pm EDT

* New N.A. chief for BMW expects 2012 sales to top 2011

* BMW sales to outpace Mercedes, Lexus in 2011-exec

* BMW 2012 sales to be helped by launch of 3-Series

By Bernie Woodall

NEW YORK, Oct 19 (Reuters) - BMW expects to keep the top spot in the U.S. luxury car market through the end of the year and into 2012, edging out Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler AG and longtime market leader Toyota Motor Co's Lexus brand.

Through September, BMW North America's vehicle sales were outpacing those of Mercedes-Benz USA and the Lexus brand, according to Autodata, which tracks U.S. auto sales.

"The intention is clearly to stay in that position," BMW's Ludwig Willisch said in an interview with Reuters on Wednesday. "We will do everything that is reasonable to stay there."

That does not include boosting incentives in 2011 or 2012, he said.

Lexus has dominated the U.S. luxury vehicle market for 11 years, but the brand has been hurt this year by lost production and sales after a massive earthquake hit Japan in March.

The brand's woes have opened the door for its rivals, including BMW and Mercedes, which have been dueling for the luxury sales crown all year.

Willisch predicted that BMW's U.S. sales next year would top BMW's 2011 performance. Sales in 2012 will be bolstered by the launch of the sixth generation of its 3-Series, he said.

The 3-Series sedans are the mainstay of the BMW brand, and account for about 40 percent of its U.S. sales.

Much of the automaker's marketing budget in 2012 will be spent on the launch of the 3-Series, production of which is due to begin in February. Sales of the 3-Series are due to begin in March.

Willisch, formerly in charge of BMW's European sales region, took over as head of BMW's North American operations earlier this month, replacing Jim O'Donnell.

If BMW finishes the year in the top slot, it will be the first time the brand has beat out Lexus since 1997.

The earthquake in Japan, where most Lexus models are built, shut down Toyota's production and triggered a global parts shortage. Lost sales coupled with what analysts have called an aging vehicle lineup have hurt the Lexus brand.

In the first nine months of the year, BMW sales in the United States rose about 14 percent. The company sold nearly 220,000 vehicles, including its Mini and Rolls Royce brands.

Mercedes-Benz sales rose 9.5 percent, selling a little over 186,000 vehicles, while Lexus sold just over 135,000 vehicles, down 16.5 percent from the same period a year ago.

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