BERLIN (Reuters) - Audi (VOWG_p.DE) chalked up its best ever September sales result but was still edged out by Mercedes-Benz in a further sign that the rivalry among Germany's top luxury automakers is intensifying.
Deliveries at Audi, Volkswagen's flagship division, last month rose 6.4 percent to 159,950 cars and sport-utility vehicles, the company said on Thursday.
Mercedes-Benz (DAIGn.DE) sold 162,746 models, 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.
It was the first time this year that Mercedes-Benz bested Audi in monthly sales.
Audi, which eclipsed Mercedes-Benz in 2011 to become the world's No. 2 premium automaker behind BMW (BMWG.DE), has seen its overall 2014 sales lead over the Daimler division shrink to 103,494 cars after nine months, compared with 118,110 at the same time a year ago.
While Mercedes-Benz 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 line-up," said Frankfurt-based Commerzbank analyst Sascha Gommel.
Still, research firm IHS Automotive does not expect the hierarchy in the three-way German luxury sales contest to change any time soon.
Deliveries of BMW brand cars may jump 23 percent to 2.04 million models by 2019 from an estimated 1.66 million this year, according to IHS. By comparison, sales may rise 16 percent at Audi to 1.91 million and 12 percent at Mercedes to 1.67 million, IHS said.
Audi itself has a goal of boosting sales to above 1.7 million vehicles this year from a record 1.58 million in 2013, relying on momentum in China and Europe where it leads the premium segment.
Mercedes-Benz has a goal of lifting 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.
Munich-based BMW is targeting a significant rise in group sales volume to 2 million or more, after delivering a record 1.96 million cars last year. The target also includes Mini and ultra-luxury Rolls-Royce cars.
BMW is also expected to publish September sales this week.
Reporting by Andreas Cremer; Editing by Maria Sheahan and Susan Thomas