The BMW brand sold 247,907 vehicles in 2011, up 13 percent from the previous year. Mercedes-Benz brand sold 245,231 vehicles, also up 13 percent.
BMW's surge ended the streak of 11 years for Lexus as the top-selling luxury brand in the U.S. market. Lexus was third in 2011, selling 198,552 vehicles, a drop of 13 percent. Toyota and Lexus sales suffered from the effects of last March's earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Toyota officials projected on Wednesday that Lexus' 2012 U.S. sales will increase by more than 20 percent.
Edmunds.com said this week that BMW increased consumer incentives by more than $200 per vehicle in December from a year earlier in an attempt to snatch the luxury sales title. Mercedes-Benz kept its incentives essentially flat, Edmunds said.
BMW and Mercedes-Benz both delayed releasing details of their December auto sales until Thursday. All other mass-market automakers in the U.S. market issued December and full-year results on Wednesday.
Including the Mini brand's five models, BMW's U.S. sales were 305,418 last year, up 15 percent from 2010.
Including Daimler's Sprinter commercial van and the subcompact Smart car, Mercedes-Benz USA sales were 254,460, up 17.5 percent from 2010.
General Motors Co (GM.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) has positioned Buick as a luxury brand and it was fourth in that category in 2011, with sales of 177,633, up 13 percent. GM's Cadillac was a laggard among luxury brands; it grew by only 3 percent to 152,389 vehicles sold, for fifth place.
Most luxury brands outpaced the U.S. auto market's 10 percent gain in 2011.
In seventh place was Volkswagen AG's (VOWG_p.DE: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) Audi with sales of 117,561, up 16 percent. Nissan Motor Co's (7201.T: Quote, Profile, Research,Stock Buzz) Infiniti, also impacted by the Japan earthquake, sold 98,461 vehicles, down 5 percent.
Ford Motor Co's (F.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) Lincoln sales were essentially flat at 85,643, for ninth place. Ford kept Lincoln as its only other brand in North America as it restructured in the past few years, and has pledged to refurbish the brand that several decades ago was the top luxury brand in America.
Rounding out the top ten in the U.S. luxury market last year was former Ford property Volvo, now owned by China's Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd (0175.HK: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz). Volvo's U.S. sales in 2011 were 67,240 vehicles, up 25 percent.