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BMW is threatening to topple Lexus as the best-selling luxury brand in the United States in 2009 after eight straight years as No. 2.
As automakers prepare to report June sales on Wednesday, the BMW brand through five months is narrowly ahead of Lexus, Toyota's luxury marque, 76,819 to 73,186.
The United States is BMW's top market. The German automaker says that 23.0 percent of its 1.27 million sales were in the U.S. market last year. Germany was second with a sales volume of 19.6 percent.
Finishing on top would be a rarity for a European brand.
General Motors' Cadillac dominated from 1946 through 1997. Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln won in 1998, and Mercedes-Benz took the crown in 1999.
"This year's emphasis is on maintaining our market share and even growing our share a bit," said Jan Ehlen, a spokesman for BMW of North America. "If this results in remaining in the top spot of the premium market, that would be a nice bonus."
Through May, Lexus' U.S. sales have plunged 37.2 percent, roughly the same decline as the overall U.S. market, where demand is at 27-year lows. BMW is down 30.5 percent, lifting its share to 1.9 percent, matching Lexus.
John McCandless, a spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., said being a sales leader has never been a goal for Lexus.
"Volumes can vary," he said. "Meeting the needs of our customers is what's important."
McCandless added that Lexus may boost sales later this year as new models gain traction, such as the ISC convertible and the brand's first hybrid-only sedan, the HS250h.
Audi, Porsche, Jaguar and Land Rover have also declined less than the market, helping all European brands boost their collective share to 8.5 percent through May, from 7.4 percent a year earlier.