In the auto industry, as in politics, a third-party entry into a well-known, hotly contested race can cause significant consternation among the rank and file. Sometimes it’ll prove enough of a jolt to spoil the lead for a previously guaranteed winner.
American voters saw it when Ralph Nader broke up the deadlock between George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000. American drivers are seeing it this year, as Audi threatens to affect the years-long deadheat between BMW and Mercedes-Benz for luxury market supremacy.
According to monthly sales figures compiled by Autodata, Audi is closing in on BMW and Mercedes in the race to sell the most luxury cars on the market this year. It likely won’t surpass either in overall volume, but it will siphon sales off current leader BMW. Having a target of 200,000 annual sales by 2020, nearly double what it sells now, won’t hurt in the process.
“It’s really a slug-fest between BMW and Mercedes,” says Mike Wall, an auto analyst for IHS Automotive. “Audi is still down in the rankings, but boy they’re making a move.”
Photos: Slide Show: 10 Cars That Will Make It Past 200,000 Miles
Photos: In Pictures: The World's Most Expensive Cars
Photos: In Pictures: 10 Cars You May Drive In 10 Years
Photos: In Pictures: 13 Common Car-Buying Mistakes
Last month the Mercedes brand beat BMW by 3,189 deliveries though it finished just slightly behind in total sales for 2011. Audi trails both by more than 80,000 deliveries in year-to-date sales; analysts expect that gap to close in the coming years.
Indeed, in a contest once dominated by Lexus, which was No. 1 for 11 years in a row but faltered after Japan’s 2011 earthquake, Audi has added a particular volatility that will make it difficult for BMW to repeat its top status.
“There’s going to be a lot of action before the year is over,” Wall says.
Consumers, at any rate, have much to gain from the contest. New products translate quickly into higher sales figures, as do technological and performance-driven upgrades. And in their competition to sell the most cars possible, luxury automakers worldwide are tightening the value of their products.
“There are a tremendous amount of new products coming out now,” says Thomas King, the senior director of automotive research at JD Power & Associates. “That bodes well for auto sales next year, absolutely.”
Behind the Numbers
In order to make this list we used data provided by Vincentric, an automotive consulting firm based in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Analysts there tallied the cost of ownership for each 2012 model-year vehicle by evaluating the manufacturer suggested retail price and five-year totals for fuel costs, maintenance, repairs, average national insurance rates, depreciation, interest, opportunity costs and taxes.
We assumed an annual rate of 15,000 miles driven per vehicle and a price of $3.718 for regular fuel, $3.997 for premium and $3.991 for diesel. We applied a national-average inflation rate of 3.5% for these fuel prices, since the calculations predict costs over five years. We evaluated only vehicles from recognized premium and luxury brands with base MSRPs of more than $50,000.
Top of the list are the BMW Z4, Audi A5 and Audi Q7 Diesel. They’re notable for better-than-average depreciation rates and superior reliability. Each has received an “excellent” valuation from Vincentric, the highest possible, with total five-year costs of less than $70,000.
The Q7 demonstrates one particular pocket of high value: the diesel engine. It and the Volkswagen Touareg Diesel are good buys, says David Wurster, the president of Vincentric, because while diesel technology tends to cost more initially than gasoline power the difference is quickly made up in fuel efficiency and reliability.
“Diesel engines always do well,” Wurster says. “There’s a little less maintenance with the diesel engine. They tend to hold their value.”
It’s no accident the Q7 made the cut this year—Audi has done all it can to make its vehicles reliable, efficient and able to retain their value. All of which translate into a very good deal at the showroom.
In fact, there are three other Audis besides the diesel SUV that made the cut: The S5 and aforementioned Audi A5 coupes and the R8 sports car.
Call it the set-up to a spoiler.
Click on the slideshow above to see our list of the luxury cars with the best values on the market this year.
Check Top Luxury Cars here: http://bit.ly/SyXAI9