DETROIT – High unemployment and low consumer confidence may be hindering sales at some auto makers, but not BMW Group.

Soaring sales of BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce vehicles made 2011 the most successful year ever for BMW, as global sales climbed to 1.66 million units.

The auto maker sold 1.38 million BMW-brand vehicles in 2011, a 13% year-over-year increase, while Mini deliveries jumped 22% to 285,000 units.

And though total numbers were small, Rolls-Royce registered an especially impressive gain. Last year’s 3,500 sales were the most in the brand’s 107-year history, says Ian Robertson, BMW Group executive responsible for sales and marketing.

The BMW brand boasts its youngest-ever product portfolio, and the auto maker promises to leverage these new products to continue sales momentum.

BMW expects its new 3-Series, featured at the North American International Auto show here, to play a crucial role in the auto maker’s continued growth.

BMW’s 305,000 deliveries in the U.S. represented a 15% increase from like-2010. That total included 247,000 BMW-brand vehicles, making it the leading premium marque in the U.S. following a fierce battle with Mercedes-Benz for top honors.

BMW is pinning much of its hopes for growth this year on the redesigned 3-Series cars going on sale next month in the U.S. Since the first models arrived in 1976, more than half of all BMWs sold in the U.S. have been 3-Series, says Ludwig Willisch, BMW of North America’s new CEO.

Also at the press introduction here was the BMW ActiveHybrid 3, billed as the first full-hybrid compact sports sedan in the premium segment.

The car combines a 6-cyl. gas engine with an electric-drive system., delivering 335 hp and 332 lb.-ft. (450 Nm) of torque. It goes on sale in the fall.

The ActiveHybrid 3 is the second hybrid-electric vehicle in BMW’s high-volume-model series, joining the ActiveHybrid 5, which is making its North American debut here.

The ActiveHybrid 5 can operate in all-electric mode up to a speed of 37 mph (60 km/h), for zero emissions in city driving. The high-voltage lithium-ion battery stores sufficient energy to provide an all-electric driving range of up to about 2.5 miles (4 km) at an average speed of 22 mph (35 km/h).

Conversely, the powertrain system can combine the engine and electric-motor torque to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 5.7 seconds.

The ’12 BMW ActiveHybrid 5, priced at $61,845, is scheduled to go on sale in the U.S. in late spring.

dwinter@wardsauto.com