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The battle of the Big 3 premium brands rages on. And, once again, BMW is on top.

BMW beat out its arch-rivals Audi and Mercedes-Benz for the title of global leader in premium brand sales for 2010. BMW AG sold 1,224,280 units last year, up 14.6 percent over 2009. BMW Group, which includes the MINI and Rolls-Royce brands, sold a total of 1.46 million units with global sales up 13.6 percent on 2009 figures.

The Mercedes-Benz brand came in second with 1.17 million unit sales in 2010, a rise of 15.3 percent over the previous year.  Including the Smart brand, which saw an astounding drop of 17 percent, Daimler's car sales rose 12 percent in 2010 to 1.27 million.

Audi placed third, but the VW Group premium brand also saw a 15 percent rise in sales with 1.09 million units for 2010.

The boost in sales seen by all three automakers was mainly the result of a rebounding market in the United States and exponential growth in China.

BMW and MINI sold 168,000 units in China in 2010, a rise of 86.7% over 2009.

BMW Group's volume, larger than its own prediction of 1.4 million units, was boosted by a new 5-Series which increased deliveries more than 22 percent over the previous model in 2009. BMW sold 211,968 units of the 5-Series in 2010.

"2010 was a very successful year for us. We are "spot on" with our new models and are building the cars people desire," said Ian Robertson, sales and marketing chief at BMW, at the Detroit auto show.

Gallery: BMW tops Mercedes and Audi in 2010 passenger car sales

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