Audi is ambitious and aggressive. The brand with the four rings wants to overtake both BMW and Mercedes by 2015 to be the world’s leading luxury carmaker with sales of 1.5 million per annum. With the revelation of first quarter figures, Audi is right on track as it has surpassed Mercedes-Benz to take the No.2 spot in the premium sector for the very first time.

Ingolstadt’s sold 264,100 vehicles in Q1, up 26% compared with the same period last year. At the same time Daimler sold 248,500 Mercedes-Benz cars, while leader BMW is expected to release its numbers before the end of April.

Cruicially for Audi, which is the VW Group’s fattest cash cow, the improved numbers are due to success in rapidly growing markets such as China. Audi sold 51,449 cars in China in the first quarter compared to 34,179 for BMW and 24,100 for Mercedes, a fact that any visitor to cities such as Shanghai won’t be surprised to hear – it’s apparent from the eye. Audi is targeting 200,000 units in China for 2010, up from over 150,000 last year.

Although it won’t be smart to bet against Audi’s continued rise, the brand still lags behind BMW and Mercedes in another key market – USA. It does however have the baby A1 as a major weapon this year. Audi has high hopes for its MINI rival and expects 80% of buyers to be Audi virgins. The A1 is expected to contribute 100,000 units to annual sales in the future.

“With these sales results, we have even surpassed the comparative figures from our record year in 2008,” said Audi sales chief Peter Schwarzenbauer, adding that Ingolstadt expects “continued growth compared to last year” in Q2. Audi sold about 256,000 cars in the second quarter of 2009. Next target, BMW.