Demand for 3 series helps to fend off rivals

BMW retains global luxury-sales crown for ninth straight year

Demand for 3 series helps to fend off rivals

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FRANKFURT (Bloomberg) -- BMW Group retained the lead in global luxury-car sales for the ninth straight year in 2013 even as Audi and Mercedes-Benz stepped up efforts to overtake their rival.

Sales at the namesake BMW brand increased 8 percent to a record 1.66 million cars in 2013, fueled by demand for the 3-series sedan and X1 compact SUV, BMW said today in a statement. Deliveries in December rose 2 percent to 155,835.

Audi's annual sales rose 8 percent to 1.58 million, while Mercedes' deliveries increased 11 percent to 1.46 million.

"The BMW Group posted record sales once again in 2013 and is clearly the number one in the premium segment," BMW sales chief Ian Robertson said in the statement. "Despite the prevailing headwinds in many markets, we aim to increase sales and make 2014 another record year."

BMW is stepping up spending on new models to fend off Mercedes and Audi, which have both vowed to take the lead in the segment by the end of the decade. To keep its edge, BMW plans this year to expand its lineup with the introduction of the i8 plug-in hybrid sports car and, at the Detroit auto show today, the carmaker will showcase the new 2-series compact coupe, which it hopes will help it regain the luxury-car sales lead in the United States, which it lost to Mercedes last year. The 2 series will replace the 1 series in the U.S. in the first quarter.

"BMW still has quite a large edge over the competition," said Frank Schwope, an analyst with Nord LB in Hanover, Germany. "Mercedes and Audi won't able to catch up so quickly, as BMW can keep pace with new models."

Sales at the group's Mini brand rose 1 percent last year to 305,030, boosted by a 6 percent jump in December to 30,455. Demand for Rolls-Royce vehicles rose 2 percent in 2013 to 3,630, the fourth consecutive year of record sales and the highest annual tally in the brand's 110-year history, BMW said. Group sales including the Mini and Rolls-Royce brands rose 6 percent to 1.96 million vehicles last year, the automaker said. December sales rose 3 percent to 186,786.

3-series surge

Audi, which reported sales on Thursday, said its sales growth in 2013 was driven by the revamped compact A3 model and the brand's growing line-up of SUVs. Mercedes, which lost the lead in luxury-car sales to BMW in 2005, has seen demand for its growing compact range driving sales volume in the last year.

Demand for BMW's 3 series surged 23 percent to more than 500,000 vehicles last year, but the company will face tougher competition in the segment when Mercedes rolls out an overhauled version of the C class starting in March.

Deliveries of BMW's X1 rose 9 percent to 161,000 vehicles. Mercedes is introducing the GLA compact SUV this year to compete with the BMW crossover. Mercedes cut into No. 2 Audi's sales advantage last year as its compact cars won new buyers. The company plans to further narrower the gap this year and is forecast to overtake Audi in 2015, according to forecasts from IHS Automotive.

Audi investment

Audi is responding with the new A3 sedan in the U.S. and a revamped version of the TT coupe in 2014. Over the next five years, Audi plans to spend 22 billion euros ($30 billion) to expand its lineup to 60 models from 49 and add production capacity in China, Brazil and Mexico.

All three German brands posted sales records last year as they tap into rising wealth in countries such as China, India and Russia and a rebound in spending in the U.S. This year, the manufacturers are again expected to grow. BMW is forecast to retain its lead with sales of 1.77 million vehicles, beating Audi's 1.66 million and Mercedes' 1.56 million, IHS Automotive forecasts.

Automotive News Europe contributed to this report

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