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China Driving Audi as it Leapfrogs Mercedes-Benz

But U.S. still critical market for VW luxury division.

by on Apr.12, 2010

With products like the new Audi A1, the German automaker hopes to maintain its lead in the global luxury sales sweepstakes.

As it expands its lead as the world’s largest auto market, China is changing not just the rules but realigning the pecking order of the global auto industry.

For the first time, this past quarter, Mercedes-Benz saw itself slip into second place on the global luxury sales charts, behind upstart Audi, the Volkswagen AG subsidiary that has become the dominant high-line player on the Chinese scene.

But despite decades of struggle, Audi continues trying to reposition itself as a leader, rather than an also-ran in the U.S., now the globe’s second-largest auto market. And company officials say they may be in for some gains – if they can just get the factory to provide American dealers with more product.

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For the first three months of 2010, it seems, Audi hit a record 264,100 vehicles worldwide, compared with just 248,500 for Daimler AG’s Mercedes brand.  If the Volkswagen subsidiary can maintain that momentum it could exceed its five-year goal of becoming the world’s largest luxury brand.  The original target was 2015, when Audi had hoped to boost sales to a whopping 1.5 million units annually.