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BMW sold 106,244 fewer vehicles in the first half than Mercedes, versus a difference of 89,818 cars in the five months through May. ― AFP picBMW sold 106,244 fewer vehicles in the first half than Mercedes, versus a difference of 89,818 cars in the five months through May. ― AFP picFRANKFURT, July 12 — Mercedes-Benz widened its global luxury-car sales lead in the first half of the year, setting back BMW AG Chief Executive Officer Harald Krueger’s effort to reclaim the segment’s top spot.

The Daimler AG brand sold 1.14 million cars in the six months through June, 14 per cent more than a year earlier, on soaring demand for its revamped E-Class sedan and trendy sport utility vehicles. BMW, which is only beginning to expand its SUV offering and renew an aging lineup of sedans, lagged behind with a 5.2 per cent gain to 1.04 million vehicles.

Even though BMW says it’s putting profit before volume, Krueger has vowed to win back the luxury-car sales crown with the biggest product offensive in the company’s history. Last year, Mercedes overtook BMW for the first time in more than a decade with a fresh lineup and some all-new models, including the GLC coupe SUV, that have attracted younger buyers.

Volkswagen AG’s Audi nameplate, hit by the growing diesel scandal and a dealer dispute in its biggest market, China, fell farther behind in the first half. The world’s third-largest luxury-auto maker sold 908,950 vehicles in the period, a 4.7 per cent drop, largely due to a 12 per cent decline in China. Audi is counting on its revamped A8 flagship sedan, unveiled in Barcelona yesterday, to pull it back into the race.

“Mercedes has the better momentum as they have a relatively new palette of models,” said NordLB analyst Frank Schwope. “It’ll definitely be a tight race again in coming years and even Audi isn’t a lost cause, but this year Mercedes will stay on top.”

Sales of Mercedes’s latest E-Class surged 68 per cent in the first half, and demand for its SUVs gained 13 per cent. BMW’s X1 SUV was its biggest growth driver in the period.

Jutting grilles

Mercedes’s star has been rising since Chief Design Officer Gorden Wagener led a radical redesign five years ago, which introduced jutting grilles and broader haunches over the rear wheels, transforming the marque’s image from stodgy to sporty and giving it the edge it needed to surpass BMW and Audi. The Stuttgart, Germany-based manufacturer also got a boost from finally jumping on the SUV bandwagon.

While Mercedes has been surging ahead, Krueger’s had to wait out BMW’s redesign cycle, and the revamps he’s overseen have been conservative. In February, BMW launched the first fully updated model under the CEO’s rein — a new bread-and-butter 5-Series sedan that hid its most interesting innovations under the hood.

All that has pushed BMW farther behind in the luxury-car race: The Munich-based automaker sold 106,244 fewer vehicles in the first half than Mercedes, versus a difference of 89,818 cars in the five months through May.

BMW CEO Krueger plans to catch up by rolling out 40 vehicles over the next two years, including the new X2 compact SUV and a full-sized X7. — Bloomberg

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