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
Most luxury brands outpaced the U.S. auto market's 10 percent gain in 2011.
Honda's <7267.T> Acura brand also suffered from effects of the Japanese earthquake, and saw sales drop 8 percent to 123,299 vehicles.
In seventh place was Volkswagen AG's
Ford Motor Co's
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>. Volvo's U.S. sales in 2011 were 67,240 vehicles, up 25 percent.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Detroit, editing by Matthew Lewis)