MUNICH -- BMW retained the title of world's biggest premium brand by vehicle sales last year while Mercedes-Benz overtook Audi to claim the No. 2 spot.
Sales of BMW's core brand rose 5.2 percent to 1.91 million in 2015 on strong demand for SUVs, BMW said in a statement on Monday.
Sales of Mercedes-branded models increased 13 percent to 1.87 million last year, the automaker said Jan. 8 in a statement. Audi's global volume lagged its German rivals as its full-year sales increased 3.6 percent to 1.80 million, Audi reported last week.
In the U.S. last year, BMW won its fourth luxury-sales crown in five years. The race was tight until the end. BMW finished 2015 with luxury sales of 346,023 vehicles, followed by Lexus with 344,601 and Mercedes with 343,088. All three brands set annual U.S. sales records last year.
But on the global stage, BMW is at risk of losing its lead this year after reporting the slowest sales growth since 2009 while Mercedes is benefiting from a fresher lineup and surging demand in China. The launch of a new Mercedes E class, which was unveiled Monday at the Detroit auto show, is expected to add further sales momentum this year.
"It's quite probable Mercedes will overtake BMW sales this year," Juergen Pieper, a Frankfurt-based analyst with Bankhaus Metzler. "The E class is hugely important and will win new customers, while BMW has little coming up this year to throw into the balance."
Both Mercedes and Audi have said they want to unseat BMW by the end of the decade as the leader in global luxury car sales. "Financial markets love segment leaders, and best-selling manufacturer is one of the ways by which you can measure performance," said Christoph Stuermer, global lead analyst at PWC Autofacts.
Audi had topped Mercedes for the No. 2 spot since 2010. Audi has been embroiled in parent Volkswagen Group's scandal over manipulated engines in recent months.
Audi has also been hit by a slowdown in China, its biggest single market, where its vehicle sales fell 1.4 percent last year. Mercedes sales in the country jumped 33 percent after the company restructured its Chinese operations. By comparison, BMW’s deliveries in China gained only 1.7 percent.
Mercedes has also benefited from surging global demand for its new C-class midsize sedan, which saw sales jump 40 percent to 443,909 cars last year.
In 2014, BMW sold 1.81 million BMW-branded cars, while rival Audi took second place, delivering 1.74 million vehicles. Mercedes lagged behind with 1.65 million luxury cars sold.
BMW said on Monday that sales of its Mini brand increased 12 percent to 338,466 last year, an all-time high for the UK-based unit, while its ultraluxury Rolls-Royce brand saw volume fall 6.8 percent to 3,785 on falling demand in China.
Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this report