European car sales rise but BMW battles to fend off Audi
IT appears that the shine is beginning to come off BMW as its lead over rival Audi starts to shrink in the ever-competitive luxury car market.
BMW said this week that sales of premium cars and SUVs rose 8.4pc last month from a year earlier to 139,399.
But Audi - Volkswagen's flagship brand - announced on Thursday that deliveries in July totalled 144,000.
Last month was the third month running that saw Audi out-sell BMW, which has been the premium-car sales leader since overtaking Mercedes in 2005.
Audi and Mercedes are hot on its heels, aiming to take the top spot by the end of the decade.
The car industry generally has been fighting back. New car sales in Europe rose 4.3pc in June, while the number of new cars licensed here for the first time last month rose 50pc to 14,037 compared with the same month last year.
Used, including imported, cars licensed for the first time were up 6.4pc to 4,879 for the same period, according to figures from the Central Statistics Office.
In total, there were 76,317 new private cars licensed in the year to the end of July 2014, a rise of 29.8pc compared to the same period in 2013.
And it's a similar picture across Europe. New car sales across the continent rose 4.3pc in June, as an economic recovery in southern Europe, new product launches and retail incentives boosted demand for mass-market brands.
New passenger car registrations rose for the tenth consecutive month to 1.23 million vehicles in June from 1.18 million in the same month last year, according to data from the Association of European Carmakers (ACEA), released in July.
Europe's car industry endured a six-year slump, with sales falling to their lowest level in two decades as austerity-hit consumers cut back on expensive purchases, but the market has gradually returned to growth.
However, the June rise comes from a low base and was spread unevenly across the region. Analysts also said that heavy discounting and other incentives were distorting the true level of demand.
Sales jumped 32.2pc at Dacia, 20.6pc at Renault and 11.7pc at Opel. Sales at Volkswagen's Spanish carmaker Seat rose 13.2pc, and 12.6pc at its Czech division Skoda.
Registration of VW's namesake brand, the carmaker's biggest division by sales and deliveries, fell 2.8pc in June.
VW said it would seek to cut costs as it struggles to match the earnings power of global rival Toyota.
The pressure is on for BMW.
But the company is trying to suggest it's not that bothered.
Chief Executive Norbert Reithofer said in June that the carmaker was reconsidering to what extent competing with rivals Audi and Mercedes for the title of luxury-sales champion was still a priority for the company.