Mercedes-Benz has committed to developing and launching ten new models by the year 2020, and a fresh product line may be exactly what the luxury automaker needs to combat lagging sales. That said, can Mercedes-Benz introduce new models quickly enough to catch rivals Audi and BMW, and will the global economy turn around or continue its downward trend?

As Bloomberg reports, Mercedes-Benz sold 964,900 cars and SUVs in the first three quarters of 2012, representing a five-percent gain over 2011’s sales. While growth is good, it’s not good enough to match second-place Audi, who sold 1,097,500 vehicles in the same period, or BMW, who sold 1,109,900.

In 2011, Dieter Zetsche, Daimler’s CEO, set a goal for the automaker to be back atop the global sales race by 2020. Being third was impossible for the brand to accept, but Zetsche couldn’t have counted on another global economic slowdown (already impacting other luxury brands) when he spoke those words.

Even sales in China aren’t as good as Mercedes needs them to be. While the company’s sales are up by 6.7-percent there year to date, both Audi and BMW have seen 30 point gains in 2012, and there are signs that growth in the Chinese market is beginning to slow.

In the short term, Zetsche is blending two Chinese business units (one for domestically produced vehicles and the second for imported vehicles) into one company, with the intent of better serving local markets and growing sales. The strategy would be sound, if only the Chinese economy kept expanding.

Mercedes-Benz also has much riding on the new A-Class, which began shipping in Europe last month. Dealers have already ordered some 70,000 units, but it remains to be seen if consumers will embrace the car’s ambitious sticker price, which begins at some 7,000 euros ($9,054) more than a VW Golf.

2014 Mercedes-Benz GLA Class spy shots

2014 Mercedes-Benz GLA Class spy shots

While new models like the A-Class, CLA sedan and GLA crossover will likely help Mercedes’ sales, neither Audi nor BMW are standing still. Both brands have new models of their own under development, which makes Mercedes’ plans to close the sales gap that much more difficult.