Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

BMW lost ground in the luxury-car sales race in January, dropping to third place behind Audi, as Mercedes-Benz stayed in front.

Global deliveries of BMW’s namesake brand rose 7.5% in January to 133,883 cars, lagging behind Mercedes’s 20% leap to 150,814 cars. While Audi had the slowest growth of the world’s three biggest upscale car brands, with sales rising 4%, the Volkswagen unit still outsold BMW with 143,150 vehicles.

The sales data shows the shifting fortunes of the top luxury-vehicle companies. Daimler’s Mercedes, a laggard for a number of years, is passing competitors after overhauling its line-up. All-new models and a renewed offering of popular and lucrative sport utility vehicles such as the GLE are also helping the brand sidestep a general slowdown in China, the biggest car market. Meanwhile, BMW’s growth has trailed its competitor’s, even as the company added the likes of the revamped 7-Series sedan to its line-up.

"Despite many markets showing continuing volatility, we remain optimistic," Ian Robertson, BMW’s head of sales, said on Wednesday.

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 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 as well.

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 line-up additions include two van-like models, the 2-Series Active Tourer and Gran Tourer, that sit awkwardly with the brand’s sporty image.

The company, which turns 100 years old in March, has kept a low profile since Harald Krueger took over as CEO last May. Mr Krueger is scheduled to present the results of a strategic review next month.

"During the year of the jubilee, Mr Krueger will want to try show excellent results," said Frank Schwope, a Hanover-based analyst with NordLB.

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% to 43,441 vehicles, compared with a 52% gain to 42,671 cars for Mercedes.