The redesigned Mercedes-Benz S class made its world debut last week in Hamburg, Germany, but Shanghai might have been more appropriate. Why? China accounted for 49 percent of all 2010-12 S-class sales.
By comparison during the three years, 21 percent of S-class sales were in the United States and 15 percent were in Europe, according to market researcher JATO Dynamics, which says Mercedes sold more than 181,000 units of its flagship worldwide during the period.
How important is China to the S class' future? Consider this: In the past, the stretched S-class version was derived from the standard-sized variant. Not anymore. To help keep its future S-class customers in China happy, Mercedes for the first time made the long-wheelbase version the basis for the entire model line's development.
A key reason for the switch: A large percentage of S-class owners in China are chauffeured. That is why the new stretched S class will offer five rear seat configuration options. Other improvements to please the people in the back include multiple massage functions, heated armrests and additional airbags -- including one in the seat belt strap.
Mercedes needs any boost it can get in China, where it badly trails Germany luxury rivals Audi and BMW in sales.
But despite being No. 3 in China and worldwide in total sales, Mercedes has long been the leader in the upper-premium sedan segment. In 2012, Mercedes sold 65,128 S-class models, compared with 59,184 BMW 7 series and 38,636 Audi A8s, data from the companies showed.