"One can justifiably speak of a lost decade for Daimler," Ingo Speich, a Frankfurt-based fund manager with Union Investment, said in a speech at the meeting. "The once smaller competitors have overtaken Daimler and are making life for the one-time top dog difficult."
Before the meeting, Stefan Bratzel, director of the Center of Automotive Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany, said: "Zetsche has identified the weaknesses and is heading in the right direction, but the competitors are ambitious too. It will be difficult for Mercedes to catch up. A successful launch of the A class will be a litmus test for the strategy."
Mercedes plans to roll out the youth-oriented A class in September to compete with BMW's 1 series and Audi's A3 and attract new customers to the brand. The sporty A class is one of at least five new small cars, including the four-door CLA coupe and a compact sport-utility vehicle, which will be based on the Mercedes new front-wheel-drive architecture to lower costs.
Daimler's car unit intends to lift its operating profit margin to at least 10 percent of sales in 2013 from 9 percent last year. Mercedes is targeting an all-time sales high this year. Deliveries in the first quarter rose 12 percent to a record 340,900 vehicles, boosted by orders for the new B-class.
The entry-level offerings will be balanced by the CLS Shooting Brake, a wagon-like variant of the $71,300 four-door luxury coupe, and three new derivatives of the S-class executive sedan, which will be overhauled next year.