An employee works on a Mercedes-Benz E-Class automobile on the production line at a Mercedes-Benz factory in Sindelfingen, near Stuttgart, Germany. Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz expects China to surpass the UK as its third-biggest market next year with its sales growth in the Asian country outpacing its overall auto market. [Agencies]
Klaus Maier has already exceeded his target of making China one of the top five markets for Mercedes-Benz sales worldwide by 2010.
Maier had set his top-five goal three years ago when he became president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz China for the Germany luxury car group.
"China has been our group's fourth-largest market this year, as we see an incredible boom in automobile sales across the country despite the global financial crisis," Maier said.
"The still-promising future makes us confident that the country will be Mercedes' No 3 market in the world next year," he added.
In November, Mercedes-Benz reported a record-breaking year-on-year growth of 224 percent with nearly 8,500 units delivered to customers during the month in China.
For the first 11 months of 2009, Mercedes-Benz sold more than 59,200 cars for a year-on-year growth rate of 68 percent to solidify its position as the fastest-growing luxury brand in China.
"It should be attributed to the aggressive strategies we defined during the past three years to motivate every one of our staff to achieve growth," Maier said.
He expects full-year sales to total a record 65,000 cars, he said, which would mean a 65 percent year-on-year increase for Mercedes-Benz, which holds a 10 percent share of China's luxury car market.
Maier said he predicts that China's automobile industry will grow by 10 percent to 15 percent next year, and the figure will be higher if the government continues the favorable tax cut and subsidy stimulus package.
"And the luxury car sector will run a little bit faster than that," he said.
"In European and American countries, as well as Japan, one of every five car owners drives a luxury sedan. However, the figure in China is one in 10," he said about the potential for market growth.
Maier said he expects China to deliver 650,000 luxury cars from all makers this year, one-tenth of the country's 6.5-million passenger vehicle market.
"In 2010, we are aiming for a higher increase rate than the segment average to further strengthen our presence and increase the market share in China's luxury car segment. We will keep a healthy, strong development to close the gap with our rivals like BMW here," Maier said.
Mercedes-Benz next year will introduce a locally produced New E-Class executive sedan to compete with the Audi A6L and BMW 5-series, which sold 9,550 and 2,850 units in October, respectively.
Since Mercedes introduced the imported New E-Class cars in China in late July, the company has sold more than 6,400 units of the ninth generation of E-Class sedans.
"I see high potential for the locally produced version of this car, which will contribute significantly to our total sales. We hope that by the end of next year, the sales of Mercedes import cars and locally produced cars will be 50/50," Maier said.
Mercedes-Benz currently produces only its C-Class sedans in China, with sales accounting for roughly one-fifth of total sales per month.
"The market performance will be strongly boosted by this year's newly launched models like B-Class and smart cars, as well the long-established S-Class sedans, which have occupied 44 percent of China's top luxury car market," he said.
During the past three years, Mercedes-Benz has expanded its efforts to cater to Chinese consumers by introducing more models.
"That's quite different from three years before, when our company was concentrating on the flagship S-Class series," Maier said.