DOUGLAS A. BOLDUC

Is the S in the new Mercedes S class for Shanghai?

Douglas A. Bolduc is Managing Editor at Automotive News Europe.Douglas A. Bolduc is Managing Editor at Automotive News Europe.
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The new Mercedes-Benz S class makes its world premier today in Hamburg, Germany, but Shanghai might have been more appropriate. Why? China accounted for 49 percent of all S-class sales from 2010-2012.

By comparison, 15 percent of total S-class sales were in Europe during the three-year period and the United States accounted for 21 percent of the total, according to figures from market researcher JATO Dynamics, which calculates that Mercedes sold more than 181,000 units of its flagship worldwide during the three-year span.

How important is China to the S-class' future? Consider this: In the past, the stretch S class was derived from the standard-sized variant. Not anymore. To help keep its future S-class customers in China happy, Mercedes for the first time made the long-wheelbase version the basis for the entire model line's development.

A key reason for the switch is because a large percentage of S-class owners in China are chauffeured. That is why the new stretch S class will offer five different rear seat configuration options. Other upgrades to please the people in the back include multiple massage functions, heated armrests and additional airbags -- including one in the seat belt strap.

Mercedes needs any boost it can get in China, where it badly trails rivals BMW and Audi in sales.

No. 1 ranking

Despite being No. 3 in both China and global premium-car sales, Mercedes sales boss Joachim Schmidt has no doubt where the next-generation S class will rank worldwide in the upper-premium segment by 2014.

"In its first full year on the market we expect it to be No. 1," Schmidt said.

Mercedes says the S class has been the world's top-selling car in its segment for eight years in a row. In 2012, the car's volume was 65,128, well ahead of the 59,184 7 series sold by BMW and the 38,636 A8s sold by Audi.

You can reach Douglas A. Bolduc at dbolduc@crain.com.

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