Sales of Mercedes-Benz brand vehicles rose 15.3 percent to 93,100 units in April, the third German luxury carmaker to confirm that a recovery in demand continued over last month.

That is a strong start for the second quarter, in which we want to increase our sales considerably once again, said Joachim Schmidt, head of sales and marketing for Daimler's passenger car business.

We are also registering a clear upturn in new orders, in particular thanks to high demand in China and the USA as well as the big success of the E-Class and S-Class models.

Nevertheless, Mercedes continues to lag luxury carmakers BMW and Audi as the cumulative gap over the first four months added up to 20,000 vehicles.

Daimler also is struggling to achieve any growth with its Smart brand of pint-sized cars. After an 11 percent drop to just 9,000 units in April, Daimler hopes a refreshed ForTwo in the next quarter will provide a boost to sales.

Mercedes may have lost out on growth to its two domestic rivals, but at the least the Stuttgart carmaker can report easily the fattest margins, with first quarter EBIT roaring back to 7 percent of turnover, easily surpassing Audi and BMW.

BMW brand sales jumped 16.9 percent to 98,494 vehicles in April while Audi nearly overtook its larger rival after 18.1 percent growth last month to 96,700 vehicles.

Through the first four months, the BMW brand leads with just over 364,300 vehicles sold while Audi weighed in 360,750 in sales.

Thanks to wide success of its premium subcompact cars sold under the Mini brand, BMW remains the world's largest luxury carmaker.

Daimler has tried to position its Smart brand as a fuel-efficient alternative to the Mini but so far demand is languishing at low levels.

Moreover BMW's Rolls-Royce unit enjoys continued growth, expanding its product range to include the smaller Ghost next to its larger Phantom model. By comparison Daimler's Maybach is suffering a continual decline in sales and delivered just about 200 super luxury cars last year.

(Reporting by Christiaan Hetzner)