BMW may have padded U.S. July sales to edge Mercedes

BMW AG may have inflated its flagship brand's July sales figures to edge rival Mercedes-Benz for the month as the best-selling luxury brand in the United States, The Wall Street Journal reported today.

On July 31, the day before industrywide July sales figures were reported, BMW offered dealers discounts of as much as $7,000 per 2012 vehicle if the dealers reported the vehicles as sold on that day, according to today's Journal.

Hundreds of vehicles that were reported as sold are still on dealership lots being advertised for sale as new, according to the report. BMW division's July sales figure included demo vehicles, which are used for test drives, company spokesman Kenn Sparks said.

Sparks declined to say how many of the July sales were demo vehicles because the company doesn't provide that information publicly.

BMW division reported selling 21,297 vehicles in July, 1,986 more than Mercedes. Mercedes' total does not include sales of the Sprinter commercial van. It's unclear how BMW division's sales were affected by the demo sales.

According to the Journal, the 7 series and the 3 series were eligible for the demo discount. BMW reported selling 1,696 7-series sedans in July, and the automaker offered a $7,000 discount on the car on July 31, according to the report. In June, BMW reported selling 539 7-series units.

Similarly, BMW reported selling 7,653 3-series units last month, up from 6,740 of the cars it reported selling in June. It placed as much as $3,200 in demo discounts on the 3 series, the newspaper reported.

The 3 series has been BMW's best-selling car this year, with 54,415 reported sold though July, an increase of 1,913 units, or 4 percent, from the first seven months of 2011.

The one-day discounts on July 31 started at $2,500 for the 528i and went up to the $7,000 for the 7 series, according to the report.

Through the first seven months of the year, BMW division reported 147,801 vehicles sold, 111 units behind Mercedes, which reported sales of 147,912, excluding the Sprinter, through July.

But BMW dealers told the Journal that BMW of North America also encouraged the demo sales in order to clear out 2012 models and make room for the 2013s. The dealers said that if more vehicles were sold in North America, it would encourage BMW to send new models to North America.

"If you don't sell the cars in North America, they're going to send them to China," Justin Wong, a California-based Internet salesman told the newspaper. "Everybody is fighting for allocation."

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