SOUTHFIELD, Michigan -- BMW Group's BMW brand roared back ahead of Daimler's Mercedes-Benz to lead U.S. luxury auto sales last month when its new 3-series sedan reached showrooms.
U.S. sales of the BMW brand rose 29 percent to 21,204 in February compared with a year earlier, the automaker said on Thursday. Deliveries of the 3 series gained 66 percent.
Mercedes sales rose 17 percent in February to 18,080, while Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus brand rose 21 percent to 16,678.
"That 3 series is going to continue to be the difference maker in this luxury race this year," said Jesse Toprak, an industry analyst with TrueCar.com, a California-based Web site that tracks auto sales. "BMW has the advantage going into this year."
Mercedes's updated version of the C-class compact sedan and a new two-door version have helped the automaker put pressure on BMW's effort to keep its spot as the top-selling luxury brand in the U.S.
Lexus was the leader for 11 years until BMW took the crown last year. After two months, Mercedes holds a 770 unit sales lead over BMW.
Mercedes sold a total of 38,379 in January and February while BMW delivered 37,609 during those months. Dealers sold 28,952 Lexus vehicles in the U.S.
The results exclude Daimler's Sprinter vans and Smart cars and BMW's Mini brand, which aren't luxury vehicles.
"The surge in consumer confidence and the launch of the new BMW 3 series combined to produce the strongest February results since the record set in 2007," Ludwig Willisch, head of BMW of North America, said in a statement.
The more fuel-efficient, redesigned 3 series, which starts at $35,795 excluding destination charges, arrived in U.S. showrooms Feb. 11.
The new version accounted for 35 percent of the model's sales last month.
Max Warburton, a London-based analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, called the 3 series "one of the most profitable vehicles ever" in a November report that estimated the model has generated $290 billion in revenue and $17 billion in earnings before interest and taxes since 1995.
Mercedes started selling an updated C-class sedan in September that ended the year up 11 percent, edging out the 3-series sedan by about 500 sales. C-class sales in February rose 17 percent to 5,240.
The U.S. sales race is just one of the battlefields for BMW and Mercedes as they wrestle for global supremacy in the luxury market.
Daimler, which has fallen to third in luxury sales behind Volkswagen Group's Audi globally, wants to regain the top spot from BMW by 2015.
U.S. deliveries of Audi rose 10 percent to 8,531 vehicles last month, the company said.
General Motors Co.'s Cadillac luxury brand sales fell 27 percent last month to 11,505, according to GM.
Porsche sold 2,149 vehicles in the U.S., a 6.4 percent increase, the company said.
Nissan's Infiniti sold 9,239 vehicles, 1 percent more than a year earlier, the company said. Honda said sales for its Acura brand rose 4.3 percent to 11,258 last month.
Ford Motor Co. said it sold 6,912 Lincolns in the United States in February, a 16 percent gain from a year earlier.
Lincoln sales jumped "big time" after Feb. 14 when it began advertising $1,000 cash offers to buyers trading in a competitor's vehicle, said C.J. O'Donnell, the brand's marketing manager.
The program, which he described as an early "spring sales promotion," runs through March. "Our sales picked up right away," said O'Donnell. "It's specifically targets people who are moving up from mainstream brands and from other brands."
Lincoln's success in February doesn't change Ford's plans to overhaul the brand with new models and improved dealerships, O'Donnell said.
Land Rover's U.S. deliveries rose 27 percent to 3,255, while Jaguar sales were up 48 percent to 1,022l.