Mercedes maintains lead as luxury outpaces mass market

Mercedes-Benz continued to lead all premium brands in total U.S. sales in February. Photo credit: DAVID PHILLIPS

The U.S. auto market is supposed to be contracting, but it seems nobody told premium carmakers.

As broader industry demand slowed last month — with popular pickup and crossover models even posting rare declines — luxury sales kept on cruising. The four biggest high-end manufacturers in the U.S. all reported gains in February, led by a 12 percent jump for Volkswagen AG’s Audi. Daimler AG-owned Mercedes-Benz continued to lead all premium brands in total sales.

Higher-income buyers are going to benefit more from changes to the U.S. tax code, said Charlie Chesbrough, Cox Automotive’s senior economist. Wealthy consumers are also better equipped than those with low incomes to withstand the impact of higher interest rates, he told reporters on a conference call Thursday.

Even if the economy were to weaken, “folks at the upper end of the income scale are not affected as severely as folks at the bottom,” he said. “So the luxury market should be just fine.”