Mercedes to add 2 models to S-class range
DETROIT -- Mercedes-Benz's redesigned S-class range will grow from three vehicles to five with the addition of a convertible and an ultraluxury sedan.
The new top-of-the-line model, which will go on sale toward the end of the year, will cover some of the elite ground Mercedes ceded when it killed the Maybach brand last year.
Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said "more diverse offerings in that segment" are required because of growing demand for large luxury vehicles in the United States and in developing markets.
Mercedes now offers short- and long-wheelbase versions of the S class and a coupe on the same platform that is called the CL. The other versions will roll out over three years, with the range-topping, ultraluxury model the last to appear, said Joachim Schmidt, Mercedes' global sales boss.
That car will compete against high-end Bentleys rather than Rolls-Royce models that the Maybach targeted, Zetsche said.
Without Maybach, "there may be a few folks that we may not reach," said Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA. But worldwide, he said Mercedes can sell 1,000 ultraluxury S-class sedans annually compared with about 300 Maybachs.
"The question is: Do you want to be in a club of 1,000 people or in a club of 300 people?" he said.
Maybach, an old German brand, was revived by Mercedes-Benz a decade ago to compete with Rolls-Royce and Bentley. But sales never hit targets and the brand's prestige never rose to the level of its competitors.
Global S-class sales exceeded 60,000 units last year, the last full year of the current generation. U.S. sales dipped slightly last year to 11,794, but Zetsche noted 30,000 S-class sales in China and brisk sales in Russia and the Middle East.
In 2011 "we were squeezing units out of our capacity and still could not satisfy demand for the S class," he said. "That tells you something about the growth of that segment."
Zetsche says demand in the large luxury segment will soar because the number of wealthy people will grow faster than the population at large in emerging markets.
"We have taken into account the demands of these new markets," he said. "That is opposite to Europe, where they say, 'We want S class as small as possible' -- and I am slightly exaggerating -- and China, where they want it as large as possible."
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