NEW YORK – Mercedes-Benz U.S.A. President Steve Cannon tells the International Motor Press Assn. here his brand outsold BMW last year by at least 5,600 units according to registration data compiled by R.L Polk.

“We beat BMW flat out (in 2012),” Canon tells the auto writers.

Cannon’s surprising announcement comes a month after 2012 U.S. sales results were released by auto makers in early January. BMW sold 281,460 units compared with Mercedes’ 274,055, according to WardsAuto data.

Kenn Sparks, a BMW North America spokesman, disputes Cannon’s claim. “BMW had extraordinary sales in December because of the new X1 and availability of all-wheel drive in the new 3-Series.”

State registration data, as reported by Polk, can lag 60 or even 90 days after an especially strong sales month, he adds. “Throw in a holiday and the delay is inevitable. That’s what is playing out here. The BMW sales numbers are solid.”

Cannon says there was only an 11-unit difference between Mercedes' reported sales and Polk's registration data. However, there was a 12,962-unit gap between BMW’s reported results and Polk's registration data.

He does not cite any specific examples of how BMW might have manipulated its sales numbers, but says “there are ways to play with numbers.”

For example, some auto makers inflate their sales numbers by pushing heavily incentivized vehicles on dealers with instructions to use them in their loaner fleets until they become lightly used vehicles, Cannon says. The extra cars then are sold as pre-owned vehicles. Meanwhile, the loaner cars are counted as sold vehicles.

The Mercedes chief previously has accused BMW of “sales engineering” to obtain its total 2012 sales numbers. “Mercedes led the (sales) race for 11 months,” he says, implying that BMW pulled out all the stops in December to claim it was the luxury sales leader for the year.

Despite claiming Mercedes was No.1 in luxury sales, Cannon says the auto maker won't advertise that fact. “It doesn't mean anything to customers. Above all, it doesn't make sense for a luxury brand to claim big numbers.”

Cannon says Daimler Chairman Dieter Zetsche forecasts Mercedes will be the top luxury brand globally by 2020. He says he told Zetsche Mercedes-Benz U.S.A. “will be a down payment.”

Cannon believes Mercedes sales will take off because the brand will introduce 30 new models in the U.S. over the next seven years. He expects to see an immediate boost from the CLA that is scheduled to debut in September.

The all-new car, which will be positioned below the C-Class, will have average transaction prices of $32,000-$33,000, he predicts, compared with the present entry-level C-Class that sells for more than $40,000 on average.

Cannon is so enthusiastic about the CLA that he authorized an expensive TV commercial about the car shown during the Super Bowl broadcast, even though it was many months away from introduction. He claims the marketing ploy paid off in creating anticipatory interest.

Mercedes-Benz is highly pleased with its investment to obtain the naming rights for the Superdome in New Orleans where the Super Bowl took place earlier this month, he adds, claiming the auto maker got $6 million-$7 million worth of air time during the title game held in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Cannon declines to reveal what Mercedes paid for the naming rights, but concedes media reports of $50 million for 10 years are not inaccurate.