Audi Stays Ahead of Mercedes in Luxury Sales Race

Last month was a straightaway of sorts for luxury carmakers. First, Mercedes stomped on the pedal and posted its best month of sales in its venerable history. Now Audi reports that it did slightly better in March, keeping the lead in the race for swanky car customers worldwide and topping its own previous monthly best. (BMW, which has been No. 2 in the contest this year, reports March figures on Tuesday.)

Audi, a unit of Volkswagen, sold almost 171,000 vehicles in March, a 15.4 percent increase over the year-earlier period. At the moment, the biggest gains appear to be in China, and Audi is in the best position to capitalize. The country accounts for almost one-third of its business. In March, Audi sold 37 percent more cars in China. Here’s a look at how Audi sales broke down geographically last month:

And here’s a look at gains in each of those markets:

Sales of luxury cars are growing most strongly in Brazil, but Audi sells few cars there. China is where Audi is moving the needle most. The opulent-car strategy in China has long been to focus on buyers who never drive themselves. To that end, making a spacious backseat with a cluster of control dials has been the smart play.

But the new opportunity lies in the burgeoning middle class and professionals high enough up the seniority chain to get a company car, but low enough that they have to drive it themselves. Among top performers are Audi’s new A3, a compact sedan, and the TT Roadster, which is all about corners, not cushy backseats.

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