BERLIN -- Daimler AG reported a 71 percent gain in first-quarter operating profit as growing wealth in China boosted deliveries of the Mercedes-Benz S-class sedan.
Earnings before interest and taxes rose to 2.03 billion euros ($3.01 billion) from 1.19 billion euros a year earlier, Daimler said Friday in a statement. Profit matched the 2 billion-euro average estimate of 12 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
Sales rose 17 percent to 24.7 billion euros. Daimler stuck to its forecast for "significantly" higher Ebit in 2011 than last year's 7.2 billion euros. The company expects sales prospects for Mercedes-Benz's updated C-class sedan and revamped SLK roadster to outweigh the potential repercussions of last month's earthquake in Japan.
First-quarter net income almost doubled to 1.18 billion euros. China's growing economy is fueling demand for vehicles from Mercedes, BMW AG and Volkswagen AG's Audi. The top three luxury-car makers are all targeting record sales this year. VW's Lamborghini supercar brand may sell more vehicles in China than the U.S. this year for the first time.
Daimler aims to boost deliveries to 1.5 million cars by 2015, backed by a doubling of sales in China to 300,000 vehicles.
The 125-year-old German automaker plans to sell more than 1.3 million Mercedes-Benz and Smart cars in 2011, compared with 1.28 million last year. Deliveries rose 13 percent in the first quarter to 281,000 autos, boosted by a 25 percent jump in S class deliveries and a 78 percent surge in demand from China.
Mercedes-Benz will introduce a new version of the B-class compact later this year. The model is the first of a line of four new small cars. Daimler is building a factory in Hungary to back the expansion, which is part of a strategy of lowering average fuel emissions and winning over younger drivers.
Mercedes will also introduce a revamped M-class SUV in 2011. Daimler, which owns Kawasaki, Japan-based truckmaker Fuso as well as Freightliner in the U.S., is also benefiting from recovering demand in North America and Europe for heavy trucks following the global financial crisis.
Daimler, the world's largest truckmaker, and London-based plane-engine maker Rolls-Royce Group Plc are jointly seeking to buy Tognum AG, an engine manufacturer in which Daimler holds a 28.4 percent stake. The carmaker has pledged its holding in the offer. The suitors have stuck to a 24 euro-a-share bid, even though Tognum stock has hovered above the offer price. The tender offer started April 6 and expires May 18.