STUTTGART - Juergen Schrempp, chairman of Daimler-Benz, unveiled the new S-class luxury sedan in Stuttgart last week and declared it the 'guiding star' of the merged DaimlerChrysler company.
The European launch in most left-hand drive markets is 24 October. The Japanese launch is 5 December. In the USA and UK, the S-class will launch in March 1999.
Dieter Zetsche, Daimler-Benz director of sales and marketing for the car division, said Germany was expected to account for 25 percent of sales, the rest of Europe another 15 percent, the USA 30 percent and Japan 10 percent.
Production is expected to reach full volume by December or January. The manufacturing target is 17,000 units this year and 80,000 in 1999.
'We must maintain profitable growth,' said Schrempp. 'We have achieved above-average growth rates in all markets and our cars are now noted for their high value retention. We know expectations are high with the new S-class.
'We have a 42 percent share of this luxury segment worldwide and we would like to increase that to 50 percent with the new model.'
The BMW 7 series is the big competitor. In the first half of this year, the BMW model was just ahead in world production, and well ahead in European sales. The S320 starts at DM112,000 ($67,400) in Germany.
Schrempp added that growth of the Mercedes-Benz brand 'has been limited by our premium claim - quality over quantity.'
New products in high-volume segments - the A-class city car and M-class sport-utility - are pushing brand sales well ahead of last year. In western Europe, Mercedes-Benz registrations rose 27 percent to 346,700 in the first six months to July, against 272,400 a year ago.