Mercedes-Benz's Game-Changing CLA Is a Major Problem for BMW

2014 CLA250 Edition 1. Photo: Mercedes-Benz.  

This could have been BMW's year, when it comes to U.S. luxury vehicle sales. Indeed, in July, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said he didn't expected Mercedes to outsell BMW in 2013. However, that was before the release of the CLA -- Mercedes' impressive, and less-expensive, coupe. Now, thanks to the CLA, Mercedes' sales have surged, and it looks as if BMW could lose the title of top-selling luxury-auto brand in the United States. 

The CLA dominates
For the past two years, BMW won the title of top-selling luxury brand in the U.S., and it hoped to do the same in 2013. Then, Mercedes changed the game and released its CLA, which has a starting MSRP of $29,900. Considering the "cheapest" Mercedes used to be the C-Class Sedan -- which has a starting MSRP of $35,800 -- the CLA's lower entry-point is great news for Mercedes enthusiasts. And a lower entry-point isn't the only thing going for the CLA. 

Thanks to a direct Injection and rapid-multispark ignition, the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine produces 208 horsepower, and 248 pound-feet of torque, which allows the CLA250 to go from 0 to 60 in 6.9 seconds. Further, the ECO start/stop shuts off the engine when the car is idling, which will save you money on gas. Speaking of gas, the CLA has an estimated fuel economy of 26 mpg city, and 38 mpg highway. Additionally, the CLA is front-wheel drive, but for those who want it, all-wheel drive is available.  

The CLA has been available in the U.S. only since September, but it's already had respectable sales. In November, Mercedes reported that it sold 3,623 CLAs, and year-to-date U.S. sales for the model were 10,828. More importantly, strong CLA sales helped extended Mercedes' lead over BMW, by 7,610 vehicles.

The new BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo - M Sport Package. Photo: BMW.

BMW's comeback option
In November 2012, Mercedes was ahead of BMW when it came to U.S. luxury-vehicle sales. Then, BMW unleashed its December sales initiative and ended up taking the luxury sales crown for 2012. This year, however, BMW doesn't have a sedan that can compete with the CLA's price -- BMW's lower entry-point 1 Series is a two-door coupe, while the more comparable 320i sedan has a starting MSRP of $32,750.  

Moreover, U.S. CLA sales are still surging, and December could turn out to be a very impressive month for Mercedes. Plus, the Automotive Leasing Guide just released a study where it reported that a three-year old CLA will have the highest residual value of any compact car in the premium segment. That's great news for the CLA, and Mercedes.

What to watch
The title of top-selling luxury auto-brand in the U.S. is a highly coveted crown, and BMW could pull something out of the bag at the last minute -- like it did last year. But, with Mercedes seeing such strong sales, BMW would be hard-pressed to overtake Mercedes' lead. So, while it's not over until Dec. 31, it seems likely that Mercedes will win the title. That's great news for Mercedes, and its investors, but not great news for BMW. However, losing the title won't devastate BMW as a company. It still has an incredibly strong brand, and offers investors significant potential. But the loss of the top-selling vehicle title isn't great news, either. Consequently, this is something investors should watch.

Mercedes' sales are surging and so is this
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Fool contributor Katie Spence has no position in any stocks mentioned. Follow her on Twitter: @TMFKSpenceThe Motley Fool recommends BMW. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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