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Luxury car-makers drive the boom in German exports

German luxury car-makers provided clear evidence that they are driving the country's dramatic export boom yesterday after announcing record January sales figures and an across the board pay rise for 100,000 workers at all of the industry's domestic Volkswagen plants.

The Munich-based BMW, which currently rates as the world's best-selling premium car-maker, said that deliveries of its own-brand vehicles and its Mini and Rolls-Royce cars had increased by 28 per cent to 90,841 compared to 69,861 in January last year. In China, the company's most important new market, sales grew by 70 per cent

"We were able to make substantial gains in Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa," said BMW's sales chief Ian Robertson. "We expect growth rates to remain strong over the next few months, although the pace will slow a little in the second half of the year, due to baseline effects," he added.

The company's sales increases were due largely to a 73 per cent increase in demand for BMW's small X1 sports utility vehicle and a doubling in sales of its new generation 5-series.

BMW's rival, Audi which rates as the world's third-largest luxury car manufacturer, reported sales increases of 23 per cent on a year-on-year basis. "Based on the current order situation, we expect a strong first quarters," said Audi's sales chief Peter Schwarzenbauer.

Audi, which is owned by Volkswagen, said that its European sales were showing " strong momentum" despite the Continent's financial difficulties, and that its US sales were up 20 per cent on a year ago. In China sales rose 32 per cent. Audi's sales were driven by a strong demand for its Q5 and Q7 SUVs.

BMW and Audi's results were matched by Germany's other luxury car giant, Mercedes-Benz, which last week reported a 23 per cent global sales increase in January. Mercedes sold 82,700 cars compared with 67,000 during the same period last year.

The figures were a marked improvement on early 2010 when demand for luxury cars was still suffering from the steep downturn the industry suffered the previous year. However, the sector managed an unexpectedly rapid comeback last year, thanks to a growing demand for luxury vehicles from increasingly affluent customers in China and a market recovery in the US.

Europe's biggest car-maker, Volks- wagen is due to announce January sales figures later this month. Yesterday the group announced that it had agreed an across the board 4.2 per cent pay rise for the 100,000 workers employed at all of its vehicle manufacturing plants in Germany.

The German car industry has responded to the increased global demand by introducing extra shifts at its plants. Late last month Volkswagen was obliged to shut down its main Wolfsburg plant for 24 hours to enable the factory's car parts suppliers to catch up with the big increases in vehicle output.