> Industry
Strong economy buoys Mercedes-Benz
By Li Fangfang (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-08-31 07:53

Strong economy buoys Mercedes-Benz 

Mercedes-Benz exhibites its S-400 Hybrid, a leader in the luxury sedan segment, at the Shanghai Auto Show in April. The German premium car brand introduced its new generation of S-Class sedans to China last week. File photo

China's positive economic growth has helped make the country the biggest market for the S-Class sedan by Mercedes-Benz.

The German luxury sedan maker last week officially launched the ninth generation of S-Class sedans in the China market.

"In addition to the excellence of our flagship S-Class, we believe that the overall Chinese environment played a major role in China becoming the largest S-Class market in the world," said Klaus Maier, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz China Ltd.

Maier cited the success of the government's stimulus package that dampened the effects of the global recession.

"The government's stimulus measures have a more far-reaching effect, as it did not only help limit the impact of the downturn, but it actually spurred and boosted the growth of China's overall economy," Maier said.

Bjoern Hauber, general manager of sales and marketing for Mercedes-Benz China Ltd, said strong economic growth led to the growth of China's wealthy class, which is spurring demand for luxury products.

Wealthier customers also are demanding more personalized goods with extra features, he said.

"With the launch of the ninth new generation S-Class models, we will meet the specific and diversified needs of those very customers," Hauber said.

In the first seven months of this year, Mercedes-Benz sold nearly 31,700 luxury vehicles to Chinese customers - a 49 percent jump over last year. Total sales of S-Class cars in mainland China reached 7,250 units.

"In addition to China's encouraging market environment, the success of the S-Class can be attributed to a number of factors, including the strength of the S-Class product and heritage, as well as our attention to customer needs," said Hauber.

It was in the 1990s, when more people began driving cars that some Chinese businessmen began to yearn for a "Daben" (big Benz), the Chinese nickname for Mercedes-Benz.

Younger buyers

"Chinese customers now understand the value and brand reputation of the S-Class," Maier said.

Hauber said Chinese customers are different than customers in Western countries. For instance, the average age of an S-Class customer is 55 in Europe and 40 in China, he said.

"This younger age group in China can be accredited to the country's rapid economic development in recent years. The booming Chinese economy has led more people to become wealthy at a younger age," Hauber said.

As Mercedes-Benz's flagship model, the S-Class has been the perennial market leader, holding a market share of more than 41 percent in China's top luxury segment.

"This achievement has given us strong confidence for the market performance of the new generation S-Class in this market," Maier said.

"We are continuing the same strategy that we have adhered to, which led to the success of the S-Class. This means that we will continue to offer a diversified S-Class product portfolio to meet the different and discerning needs of our customers," he said.

Big, but cleaner

The new S-Class sedans introduced last week included the environmentally friendly, low-fuel S-400 Hybrid.

The S-400 Hybrid is the first series-production vehicle to be equipped with a hybrid drive system using a lithium-ion battery.

"We are once again ahead of competitors, giving us great confidence for its market performance in China," Maier said.

The S-400 Hybrid boasts a fuel consumption of 8.0 liters per km, or just 188 grams per km.

"The environment has become such an important topic for the Chinese government. We foresee future demand by Chinese customers for eco-friendly cars in the luxury segment," Maier said.

Mercedes-Benz is targeting the optimization of its vehicles with combustion engines, with the goal of making the gasoline engine as fuel-efficient as the diesel - and the diesel as clean as the gasoline engine.

For example, the carmaker's BlueTec diesel driving system, which emits around 60 percent less nitrogen oxide and 80 fewer particulates.

At the Detroit Auto Show in the United States earlier this year, Mercedes-Benz introduced its pilot emissions-free vehicles with electric drives and fuel-cell vehicles.

Along the way to what the company calls zero-emission mobility, Mercedes-Benz has introduced a series of green technology products including BlueTec, BlueTec Hybrid, Diesotto and Fuel-Cell.

Luxury cars and fewer emissions are by no means contradictory, Maier said.

(China Daily 08/31/2009 page5)