AFTER three years of ceding the crown to arch-rival BMW, Mercedes-Benz looks set to emerge as this year's best-selling car brand.
Latest figures from the Land Transport Authority show 3,506 Mercedes cars were registered as at the end of last month - or an average of 319 a month.
Over the same period, 3,295 BMWs were registered, or about 300 a month.
But could a last-minute surge push BMW into the top spot, as it did last year when more than 600 Beemers were registered in December?
Industry watchers, however, are sceptical. "It ain't over till the fat lady sings, but it looks quite unlikely," said a top executive in a dealership.
Many share his sentiments, citing a number of reasons.
Mercedes has a stronger line-up, with new models such as the A-class, B-class and CLA-class contributing to sales.
Its E-class, after a facelift, has also turned out to be more popular than its direct competitor, the BMW 5-series, which remained largely unchanged after a mid-life makeover.
In addition, Mercedes had strategically held over end-2012 registrations to start this year with a bang. It put more than 500 new cars on the road in January.
Insiders also said Mercedes had strong support from parent group Daimler, which allowed it to be more aggressive in sales promotions and COE bidding.
"It was clear that they were determined to reclaim the No.1 spot," a source at BMW agent Performance Motors said.
If the numbers stay more or less the same for December, Toyota will keep its No.3 position, followed by Volkswagen and Audi in fourth and fifth places.
As in past years, the German marques dominate, capturing four of the top five spots. They accounted for 55 per cent of all new cars sold in the first 11 months - a rise from 52 per cent last year.
But things could change next year.
The Japanese, starting with Toyota, may lead the sales race again because of a change in the way COEs are categorised.
From February, cars in the mainstay Category A have an extra condition. Besides the existing engine size limit of 1,600cc, they cannot produce more than 130bhp.
The change, announced this September, was to create a more level playing field for car buyers and sellers.
It will push popular models such as the BMW 3-series and Mercedes C-class into Category B - for bigger and costlier cars.
The Japanese also have the advantage of a weakening yen, said Mr Say Kwee Neng, managing director of Sime Darby Motors, which represents BMW, Ford and Peugeot. It will make Japanese cars more price-competitive.
But much also depends on whether car loan curbs will be relaxed or lifted, said Mr Eric Chan, managing director of Jardine Cycle & Carriage's Singapore motor operations. "The Government said the measures were not meant to be permanent," he noted.
The restrictions, announced this February, were aimed at curbing inflation and introducing more financial prudence.
They have, however, had the biggest impact on those buying entry-level premium models, including the BMW 3-series and Mercedes C-class, said observers.
This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 24, 2013
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