China is the largest car market in the world, so despite last years 2.6% pullback in sales, the first ever since 1990, a whopping 23.4 million buyers signed up for a new car.
In the period January to October 2018, Mercedes sold 545,000 cars, a number that represents their 10th overall position with 3% of this lucrative market. Importantly, the posted 11.3% growth over the same period in 2017 bucked the overall downward trend for the year caused by a combination of factors like the US-China trade war, and bank loan and personal taxation issues.
Like many manufacturers Mercedes found themselves spread more thinly at Auto Shanghai 2019, whose dates practically overlapped with the New York Auto Show, the first time this has ever happened.
However, with their massive model range, some of which are market specific, Mercedes managed to pull off a hat trick by unveiling their range topping GLS in New York, while pulling the covers off the GLB Concept in China where the compact SUV is the fastest growing segment.
Mercedes opened their massive Beijing Benz Automotive Co. Ltd factory, and a new R&D centre in 2014. These facilities put the brand closer to customers, allowing the locally made models to be tailored closely to their unique tastes. An established local preference is for LWB models of the C and E-Class models, and the GLC and new A-Class sedan have just joined this list.
Mercedes sold 820,000 SUVs in 2018, accounting for around a third of its worldwide turnover. Now, having identified a gap between the GLA and GLC the intention is to bridge it with the GLB, which goes into production next year.
It may be compact but the GLB Concept looks anything but polite. While the smooth bodywork takes its styling cues from big brothers GLC and GLS, those big off-road tyres and generous ground clearance give it the rugged demeanour of the G-Class.
Based on the new A-Class platform the GLB has a significantly longer 2,829mm wheelbase, providing just enough room for a third row of seats, a first for a car in this class.
Mercedes told us that the body panels of the GLB Concept are actual pre-production pressings, but the huge off-road wheels and tyres are only for the show car. It would be a shame to see the production car sitting on weedy 17-inch wheels!
In Europe, the US and the rest of Asia people who need more space simply buy a bigger car. Not in China. Here many prefer to have a LWB version of a smaller model hence the indigenous LWB versions of the C and E-Class models, a trend supported by LWB versions of the Audi A4 and A6 and BMW 3 and 5-Series rivals.
With the advent of the new A-Class sedan, Mercedes now offers a LWB version and their stand at Auto Shanghai showed both a bread and butter A200 LWB as well as the A35 L AMG, with their wheelbase increased by 60mm to 2,789mm. The AMG car has very distinctive looks with a lower stance, aggressive rear underbody diffuser, boot lid spoiler, and AMG logos on the C-pillars.
The motor is the same 306hp/400Nm turbocharged 2.0 litre, but the extra weight adds 0.2 second to the 4.7 seconds 0-100km/h sprint of the normal length version.
Another LWB model not seen outside of China is the GLC L 4Matic, whose rear cabin benefits from a 100m stretch. Fully loaded with leather trim and other options, the car on show was the flagship GLC300 L 4Matic ‘Luxury’ spec model. The LWB model costs around 1,200 euro more.
China is the biggest market for Mercedes-Maybach models, with sales of around 300 cars per month, and the magnificent S680 two-tone on the stand represents the last hurrah for the mighty bi-turbo V12 motor.
Ironically, despite the number of ultra-high net worth individuals in China, many resent paying high taxes on their cars. This has resulted in the entry-level V6-engine being popular with Mercedes-Maybach buyers, who have chauffeurs to drive them around town. Who needs 600hp in downtown Beijing anyway.
The trend of big car with a small engine for millionaires who resent paying the high taxes was underlined by the Brabus 45 S 4M, which is a basic V6 powered S450 with a set of 19-inch Brabus Monoblock alloy wheels and a few accessories to make it look more individual.
The Hofele name has a long history with the Mercedes-Benz marque. Carl Hofele, grandfather of the present owners, did his apprenticeship with Karl Benz back in 1915, while his son Bruno worked on the Unimog before Daimler-Benz acquired the company in 1951.
Today Hofele-Design GmbH is an official partner of Daimler AG for the personalisation of Mercedes cars. Glossy brochures in Chinese and Maybach accompanied their debut in the Chinese market at Shanghai and S-Class show cars wearing their elegant alloy wheels.