The 2014 BMW X3 has posted strong sales gains around the world. Photo credit: BMW.

BMW (OTC:BAMXF) said this week that its global sales in February set a record.

Combined sales for BMW's three automotive brands -- BMW, Mini, and Rolls-Royce -- were up 5.6% on the month, giving BMW its best February sales result ever and setting a record sales pace through the first two months of 2014.

It's another sign that luxury vehicles continue to enjoy surprising strength in markets around the world -- strength that has pushed BMW's profits up as well.

Strong global sales as BMW rides key trends
Global sales of BMW-brand vehicles were up 8.6% in February -- even while the brand's U.S. sales were up just 3.3% -- and are up 8.9% year to date. That's a strong result given the continued weakness in Europe, where recessions in many countries continue to hold down new-vehicle sales.

So what's working for BMW? SUVs. That's another story we've heard before: Rival Audi has made big gains recently with its Q5 and Q7 SUVs, powering strong profits for parent Volkswagen (OTC:VWAGY), and Ford (NYSE:F) is moving to capitalize on this trend with its upcoming Lincoln MKC. Compact luxury SUVs have been especially hot in China, but they've enjoyed good strength in other markets as well.

BMW is making hay on this trend. The company said that sales of its compact X3 SUV were up 15.5% through the first two months of 2014.

The BMW 5-Series continues to be a backbone of the company's global lineup. Sales have been rising in 2014. Photo credit: BMW.

BMW's stalwart 5-Series has been another source of strength: Through the first two months of 2014, sales of the midsize luxury sedan are up 11.4%.

"Balanced growth" with an emphasis on China
BMW says that it's seeking "balanced growth worldwide" for its mass-market BMW and Mini brands. But some areas produced more growth than others: Combined sales of the two are down slightly in the U.S. and Europe so far this year, but sales in China were up 29% last month.

BMW has the second-largest share of China's luxury-vehicle market, behind Audi, and it's investing big to keep pace. 

That's part of a larger push that BMW is making to hang on to its global luxury lead. Both Audi and Daimler's (OTC:DDAI.F) Mercedes-Benz have said that they plan to overtake BMW in total global sales by 2020. Meanwhile, well-funded efforts by General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Nissan (OTC:NSANY) to grab luxury market share in the U.S. and China pose a threat to BMW's dominance as well.

But BMW continues to roll out strong products. As long as that continues, the company should find the growth it needs to keep pace.

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