As these sales numbers suggest, the affluent and the downright rich can differ from most of us in fascinating ways.
Like their recent buying habits, for example. While so many Americans have been shopping sparingly, thanks often to a lack of employment and money, the affluent, after pulling back in the wake of the recession, have resumed buying luxury items - big time.
The substantial sales increases for luxury merchandise ranging from designer duds to automobiles are related in no small way to the stock market, which, despite its recent volatility, is up significantly from its early 2009 doldrums. As Karen W. Katz, head of the Neiman Marcus Group, recently told the New York Times: "Our business is fairly closely tied to how the market performs. Though there are bumps based on different economic data, it's generally been trending in a positive direction."
It's also true that the wealthy tend to be less vulnerable to recessionary miseries like joblessness. It would be "a fair statement," says Audi of America spokesman Bradley Stertz, to say Audi's clientele is pretty recessionproof.
In other words, the bucks are there for these folks to buy a set of wonder wheels. Dieter Zetsche, head of Daimler, put it this way to reporters at the current Frankfurt Motor Show:
"Our customer base still has the wherewithal to afford a Mercedes if they want to buy one."
A recent study for Audi by Strategic Vision Research shows its clientele has a median income of $179,000, and Audi just makes luxury cars, not ultra-luxury stuff. (It also reports the customers have a median age of 48 and have a college degree 84 percent of the time.)
The increase in car sales is not unique to luxury rides. Indeed, almost the whole industry rebounded this year, with year-to-date sales up 11 percent from 2010. But as the above-mentioned luxury-sales stats suggest, the industry average wasn't close to most of the luxo-gains.
What's also interesting is how the sales gains can vary among the luxury brands' different models. BMW's year-to-date U.S. sales are up 12 percent from 2010, but the sales of its 5 Series, which ranges from $46,700 to $64,000, are up more than 57 percent.
As in the rest of the industry, newly coined luxury iron tends to post the best sales gains. For example, since its launch in January, the new BMW X3 has enjoyed a year-to-date increase in sales of 254 percent.
The same new-model sales syndrome is also at work at Audi, whose year-to-date sales are up 15 percent.
"Our A8 flagship, as well as the A7 and A6, are new, so sales of all those have been exceptionally strong," said Audi's Stertz. ". . . Things are really going well for us. In fact, we have some tight inventories. We could probably sell more, but we're not getting enough cars from Europe."
One of the more unusual, albeit reasonable, responses to the luxury-car sales surge is Rolls-Royce's expansion of its Bespoke operation. A Rolls tradition, the Bespoke car is one that has been customized to the customer's specifications. The unique touches can range from special upholstery to a picnic set color-matched to the car's interior.
Contact columnist Al Haas