The BMW group has reached a new sales milestone - selling over a million vehicles by the end of the third quarter of 2006 - and added icing on the cake by outselling arch-rival Mercedes, which also set a nine-month record.

Sales of BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce brand vehicles rose 3.3% in the first nine months to 1,021,534 (2005: 988,480) and September sales of 132,194 units (up 0.4% on 2005) was also a record.

BMW brand sales year to date were up 5.5% to 874,208 cars, with the 3-series, still rolling out new versions such as the coupe, up 20.5% to 374,996.

Mini nine-month sales were off 7.9% to 146,851 units due to model changeover and plant expansion. The redesigned model goes on sale on 18 November.

Rolls-Royce increased Phantom sales 2.4% to 475 cars.

Noted Global Insight analyst Thomas Ryard: "BMW has finally overcome adverse model changeover effects that slowed down unit sales growth in July and August. Mercedes global sales stabilised in September, but the Stuttgart carmaker is still closing the gap on BMW.

"BMW's sales revival was supported by steady growth of its core model line and further growth is expected with the introduction of the new 3-series coupé, second generation X5, restyled X3 and replacement Mini before the end of the year."

 The Mercedes Car Group (MCG), which includes the Mercedes, Smart and Maybach brands, saw September global sales decrease 1.5% at 116,100 cars caused by a notable sales slowdown at Smart ahead of the second-generation Fortwo introduction and Forfour model withdrawal.

In the year to September 2006, global sales at the Mercedes Car Group rose 6% to reach a record 934,200 units, spurred by new model launches at Mercedes. The core Mercedes brand continued to perform strongly even though September sales were flat at 106,600 units. In the nine months to September, the German premium brand sold a total 846,300 units, which represents a robust 9.4% year-on-year increase.

Audi announced that global sales rose 7.3% in September to 83,200 units and the company still expects to achieve a unit sales record in 2006. In the first three quarters of 2006, Audi sales were up 8.4% on the year to 684,700 units, meaning that Audi only has to sell a monthly average of 68,400 units in the last quarter to achieve its annual sales target of 890,000 units.

After reporting lower sales in July and August due to model changeover effects and thus allowing Mercedes to take a momentary lead in August, sales at BMW regained some fervour in September and even with a mild increase, sales at BMW edged past Mercedes in September and the Munich carmaker is expected to maintain its lead in the closing months of the year, Ryard said in a research note.

BMW group itself said that sales are still ahead of original estimates and therefore maintained its forecast of exceeding last year's sales figures