MUNICH (Bloomberg) -- BMW lost ground in the luxury-car sales race in January, dropping to third place as Mercedes-Benz moved closer to a goal of unseating its rival this year.
Audi had the slowest growth of the world's three biggest premium brands, with sales rising rising 4 percent but the brand still outsold BMW with 143,150 sales.
The data shows the shifting fortunes of the top luxury-auto companies.
Daimler's Mercedes, a laggard for a number of years, is passing competitors after overhauling its lineup. All-new models and a renewed offering of popular and lucrative SUVs such as the GLE are also helping the brand sidestep a general slowdown in China, the world's biggest car market.
Meanwhile, BMW's growth has trailed its competitor even as the company added new models such as the revamped 7-series sedan to its lineup.
"Despite many markets showing continuing volatility, we remain optimistic," Ian Robertson, BMW's head of sales, said in a statement.
Sales of BMW's flagship 7 series, in showrooms since October, reached 3,392 vehicles last month, less than half the 8,473 deliveries for the competing Mercedes S class. The Mercedes sedan has been on the market in its current iteration for about three years, though the sales figures include the newer coupe and ultra-luxury Maybach versions.
The slow ramp-up for BMW's top-of-the-line vehicle, which featured a much-vaunted gesture control function, shows the Bavarian company's struggle to come up with fresh ideas after years of leading the competition with rugged SUVs and expanding into new segments.
Recent lineup additions include two van-like models, the 2-series Active Tourer and 2-series Gran Tourer, that sit awkwardly with the brand's sporty image.
The company, which turns a century old in March, has kept a low profile since Harald Krueger, 50, took over as CEO last May. Krueger is scheduled to present the results of a strategic review next month.
"During the year of the jubilee, Krueger will want to try and show excellent results," Frank Schwope, a Hanover-based analyst with NordLB, said in a report.
The change in momentum may see BMW lose its sales crown this year, according to forecaster IHS Automotive.
The carmaker is yielding ground to Mercedes in China and introducing comparatively few new models. BMW's January deliveries in China rose 8.4 percent to 43,441 autos, compared with a 52 percent gain to 42,671 cars for Mercedes.
Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche has tasked the Mercedes brand with the goal of becoming the leading premium brand by 2020 after it sold 1.87 million cars in 2015, passing Audi's 1.80 million, but still trailing the BMW brand's volume of 1.91 million.