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MUNICH -- Mercedes-Benz sales through July rose at more than twice the pace of arch-rival BMW’s, keeping it on course to reclaim the global luxury vehicle lead this year thanks to a sportier lineup and a new crop of SUVs.

Deliveries by Mercedes jumped 12 percent to 1.17 million vehicles in the first seven months of the year, compared to a 5.6 percent increase for BMW AG’s namesake brand. That put Mercedes more than 30,000 cars ahead of its rival. Third-place Audi gained 5.2 percent to 1.1 million vehicles.

Mercedes is also well ahead of BMW and Audi in U.S. luxury sales. Mercedes U.S. sales, minus Sprinter vans, fell 1 percent to 191,300 vehicles during the first seven months. BMW sales dropped 8.4 percent to 179,213 vehicles, putting the automaker in third place in the U.S. behind Toyota's Lexus.

Mercedes, BMW and Audi are tussling over the top spot in global sales that BMW has held since 2005. Mercedes is set to move to No. 1 for the year after bulking up its offering of SUVs with additions such as the GLC crossover and introducing a new version of its E-class business sedan.

BMW won’t refresh its E-class competitor, the 5 series, until next year, and the new version of its top-of-the-line 7 series has struggled to compete against the Mercedes S class.

“It would appear to be inevitable that BMW is losing its lead this year,” said Stuart Pearson, a London-based analyst at Exane BNP Paribas. “They’re at a weaker point in their product cycle.”

While sales are important, manufacturers have pledged to preserve their profitability by resisting the temptation to use discounts to achieve delivery targets. During the second quarter, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz Cars unit, including the Smart city car brand, reported a 10 percent return on sales after adjusting for special items. Audi’s margin, also adjusted for special items, was 8.4 percent. BMW’s return on sales from carmaking was 9.5 percent.

Automotive News contributed to this report.
 
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