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Autos

Audi Swipes BMW's Luxury Crown. Keeping It Will Be Harder


Audi A3 Sedan

Courtesy Audi

Audi A3 Sedan

Two months into 2014, Audi (NSU:GR) has nudged ahead of BMW (BMW:GR) in the race to sell to luxury car buyers around the world.

Through February, the blue-chip Volkswagen (VOW:GR) brand has sold almost 242,500 vehicles, about 9 percent more than in the year-earlier period and just a smidgeon ahead of BMW’s “Ultimate Driving” machines. Daimler’s (DAI:GR) Mercedes, sitting in third place, has more momentum than either rival, having sold 12.4 percent more vehicles than in the year-earlier period.

There’s certainly a lot to like in Audi at the moment, but a lot of road remains before we hit the 2014 home stretch. With new 2-series and 4-series models rolling out, BMW can catch up quickly. IHS Automotive is already predicting BMW will keep its sales crown for a 10th straight year.

The race, meanwhile, will be decided in two places.

China: Audi has the clear lead here, selling almost 77,000 cars in the country in January and February, compared with BMW’s 67,400. China represents almost one-third of Audi’s business. But BMW has momentum: Its sales in the first two months showed a 25 percent improvement over early 2012. If it can keep that pace, China will quickly become BMW territory.

United States: Audi at the moment is selling only 9 percent of its vehicles in the world’s largest car market, compared with one-in-five Mercedes models and 17 percent of BMWs. That’s paltry but promising—prime condition, in fact, to steal some market share. It’s as if Audi is humming along, neck-and-neck, with one gear left.

That extra gear could be Audi’s A3 compact sedan, just now hitting dealerships at a starting price just shy of $30,000. It needs to outperform BMW’s new 2-series and Mercedes CLA without luring too many buyers away from Audi’s bigger A4. A few more dealerships and a chunk of marketing money wouldn’t hurt, either.

Kyle-stock-190
Stock is an associate editor for Businessweek.com. Twitter: @kylestock

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