The race for the No. 1 luxury brand will remain an all-German contest

Harald Hamprecht is Editor-in-Chief at Automotive News Europe.Harald Hamprecht is Editor-in-Chief at Automotive News Europe.
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And the winner is ... BMW -- again! The Munich carmaker was the top-selling global premium marque for the sixth consecutive year in 2011 with unit sales for its namesake brand of 1.38 million, a rise of 16 percent from the year before.

Second-place Audi's 2011 volume growth of 19 percent to reach 1.3 million global sales outpaced BMW's and helped the Volkswagen-owned brand overtake Daimler's Mercedes-Benz for the first time in Audi's 102-year history. Mercedes has been No. 2 since 2005, when BMW knocked its Stuttgart-based rival from the top spot.

Mercedes brand had the weakest growth of the three German luxury brands last year, with sales rising 8 percent to 1.26 million. But don't feel bad for Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche. All three automakers are winners with good profit margins, strong brands and many innovative technologies.

The German trio accounted for two-thirds of all global premium-car sales last year, according to IHS Automotive, and this won't change in the mid-term. In the race for luxury leadership, the German automakers are the only contenders.

Premium and near-premium brands from the United States, Japan, Sweden and the UK accounted for the remaining third of the luxury cake. The most successful non-German brand was Volvo, with 2011 global sales of 449,255, up 20.3 percent from 2010.

The clear German dominance was obvious at the Detroit auto show when the three brands demonstrated once more how well positioned they are for the future with debuts such as the Mercedes SL, BMW 3-series hybrid and Audi Q3 Vail concept.

The epic clash among Germany's premium heavyweights always manifests itself at the world's big automotive circuses. "Welcome to the German show," a Lexus executive commented.

Of course, by 2020 all the luxury contenders want to be No. 1 in the premium segment. Stay tuned. The race between the German rivals will create more jealousy from their competitors and will remain suspense-packed.

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