DETROIT – Mercedes-Benz concedes arch-rival BMW likely will remain as America’s best-selling luxury brand in 2012.

But Mercedes expects to ultimately claim the title, not that it matters much beyond industry bragging rights, says Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA.

“We don’t expect to be No.1 this year, and I’m fine with that,” he tells WardsAuto. “We’re not going to ratchet up incentives and do other things to get to the top. I’m a competitive guy and I’d take No.1, but I want to get there naturally.”

The home office in Stuttgart, Germany, feels the same way, Cannon says. “There has been zero pressure. They are happy with our performance in the U.S. No one is saying, ‘Steve, here’s a pile of money, go out and win a sales title.’”

Consumers don’t care which luxury auto maker is No.1, he says. “It’s totally inside baseball. It may help in team building, but it doesn’t increase sales.”

The Mercedes U.S. unit is on a roll this year, exceeding sales goals and setting company records for eight of 11 months, Cannon says. “Our all-time sales record was 253,000 vehicles in 2007, and we’ll exceed that this year with sales north of 270,000,” Cannon says.

Mercedes won’t give an exact figure, lest it show its hand to fellow German auto maker BMW, he says.

BMW edged out Mercedes for the top spot in 2011, but Mercedes claims its rival used questionable tactics, including offering heavily discounted wholesale prices to its dealers.

“We’re not going to dance around sales figures,” says Mercedes spokesman Geoff Day. He predicts BMW will announce its 2012 U.S. sales in early January “15 minutes after we announce ours.”

Mercedes expects to win the luxury sales title within two years on the strength of new product, Cannon says.  

In May, Mercedes plans to introduce a refreshed E-Class midsize sedan. Cannon calls it “our bread-and-butter car.”

Later in the year, the auto maker will debut its redone flagship S-Class and an all-new CLA, a small entry-level car selling for about $30,000.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com