Audi passes BMW in global sales to take lead in luxury race

Audi's sales were lifted in February by a 43 percent jump in demand for the A3 compact.
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FRANKFURT (Bloomberg) -- Audi AG delivered more cars than BMW AG’s namesake brand through the first two months of 2014 to claim the title of the world’s best-selling luxury-auto automaker.

Audi sold 242,400 vehicles through February, 383 more than the BMW brand, according to data from the German automakers. At the same time last year, Audi trailed BMW, which has held the top spot in the segment for nine straight years, by 429 autos.

The Volkswagen AG unit will introduce 17 new or revamped models in 2014, including the TT sports car, in an effort to hold the lead. The rollouts are part of a plan to invest 22 billion euros ($30.4 billion) over five years to become No. 1 in annual luxury-car sales for the first time.

“Competition in the premium segment is more intense than ever,” Audi Chief Executive Officer Rupert Stadler said today at the company's headquarters in Ingolstadt. “We’re ahead of our two main rivals in the first two months, but this doesn’t really interest me much. Our focus is on further growth.”

Audi’s lead at this point in 2014 reflects the tightening race among the world’s top three makers of luxury vehicles as they all vie for the No. 1 spot in the segment. Mercedes-Benz narrowed the gap to Audi through February by almost one-third to 26,647 cars and SUVs.

Audi’s sales were lifted in February by a 43 percent jump in demand for the A3 compact and 32 percent growth in deliveries of the Q7 sport-utility vehicle. Worldwide, the VW marque sold 9.3 percent more cars in the first two months of the year, compared with BMW’s 8.9 percent gain. BMW is expecting to make up ground on its closest rival in the coming months.

BMW response

“The innovative new models coming out this year, such as the 2-Series Active Tourer and 4-Series Gran Coupe, will give us the momentum to keep growing in 2014,” Ian Robertson, BMW’s sales chief, said today in a statement.

Those models will likely help BMW retain the lead in global luxury-car sales for a 10th straight year in 2014. IHS Automotive estimates that BMW will sell 1.77 million cars, beating Audi’s 1.66 million and Mercedes’s 1.56 million.

Audi and Mercedes have both vowed to overtake BMW by the end of the decade. Mercedes was last to beat BMW in annual sales, while Audi has never held the lead for a full year.

Spending to develop new products and expand production capacity caused Audi’s 2013 operating profit to fall 6 percent to 5.03 billion euros, even as revenue rose 2 percent.

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