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Mercedes, Audi gain ground on BMW in global sales race

Mercedes-Benz and Audi are closing in on global premium sales leader BMW as the race between the three tightened last month.

Results for the first seven months show that sales of BMW brand vehicles rose by 10 percent to 1.03 million units compared to the same period last year — the first time BMW has passed the million mark this early in the year.

In second place, Audi increased seven-month sales by 11 percent to 1.01 million, helped by strong sales of its top selling A6 and a 52 percent volume increase for the A3 last month to 22,450 units.

Through July Mercedes sales rose 13 percent to 920,000 units.

Mercedes sales boss Ola Kaellenius said the brand’s new compact cars and SUVs continue to drive the brand’s growth.

Because the three competitors are now so close to each other in overall sales, the percentage differences were reflected in actual volumes, too. BMW sold about 77,000 more units in the seven months this year than last year, but Audi sold about 101,000 more and Mercedes about 104,000 more.

But the overall picture, is more complex, because there are marked differences in fortunes for each company in the key global markets. Of the three, Audi is the market leader in both Europe and China, while BMW is the best-seller in the United States.

In Europe, Audi sold 474,000 units in the first seven months this year, up 7 percent on last year. Mercedes ranks second with a 30,000 increase in units sold to 411,178, but up 8 percent because it is working off a lower initial base. Against these two, however, BMW lost ground. It sold a total of 396,066 units in Europe, an increase of 6 percent, or of about 22,000 units, over the same period last year.

In the United States, BMW has the top spot. In the first seven months it sold 183,791 vehicles, up about 19,300 units or 12 percent on the same period last year, according to data from the Automotive News Data Center. Mercedes was the country’s No. 2-ranked premium brand with a volume of 178,816, up about 13,200 units or 8 percent on the same period last year. From a much lower base, Audi’s U.S. sales of 98,965 units represented growth of 13 percent, but the increase in actual units sold was about 11,000. Audi ranks fourth among premium brands in the U.S. market behind No. 3 Lexus.

China has been the big growth market for all three premium German manufacturers in recent years. Here Audi remains the clear leader, with 316,945 units sold in the first seven months — an increase of about 46,000 units equal to 17 percent growth. Second place BMW grew in volume terms by a similar amount, about 45,000 units, representing a 22 percent rise, lifting its seven-month sales there to 245,558.

Mercedes showed the most dramatic growth in China over the period with a 34 percent gain. But in China Mercedes is coming from well behind and that increase equated to about 40,000 additional units, bring its seven months total to 156,843.

BMW has been the global premium car sales leader since overtaking Mercedes in 2005. Audi has ranked second since 2011. Both Audi and Mercedes have said they want to take the top spot by the end of the decade.

All three companies are targeting another year of record deliveries in 2014, and all have said that they’ve sold the most cars ever for the year-to-date period.