BERLIN (Reuters) -- Audi sold fewer cars than rival Mercedes-Benz for the first time this year in the latest sign that the sales rivalry among Germany's top luxury automakers is intensifying.
Deliveries at Volkswagen's flagship division rose 6 percent to 159,950 cars and SUVs, the company said today, the best-ever September result for Audi but still falling short of its competitor.
Mercedes brand sold 162,746 vehicles, the best-ever month for sales in its 88-year history and a 14 percent gain on year-ago levels, benefiting from the release of new models and surging demand in China.
Audi, which eclipsed Mercedes in 2011 to become the world's No. 2 premium automaker behind BMW, has seen its sales lead over the Daimler division shrink to 103,494 cars after nine months, compared with 118,110 a year ago.
While Mercedes is enjoying strong demand for a spate of redesigned models, including the E class and the flagship S-class saloon, Audi has pushed planned overhauls of its top-selling A4 model and the Q7 SUV into 2015.
"Mercedes will catch up further with BMW and Audi in coming months, they simply got the freshest product lineup," said Frankfurt-based Commerzbank analyst Sascha Gommel.
Still, Audi has a goal of boosting full-year sales to above 1.7 million vehicles from last year's record 1.58 million, relying on momentum in China and Europe where it leads the premium segment.
Mercedes has a goal of pushing brand deliveries above last year's record 1.46 million cars. Both brands are vying to snatch the global luxury-sales crown from BMW by the end of the decade.
BMW, whose eight-month brand deliveries were up 10 percent to 1.15 million cars, is expected to publish September sales this week.