BEIJING: Mercedes-Benz, the auto manufacturer, is increasing its focus on China, where consumer spending habits, particularly in the luxury sector, have proved more immune to the economic downturn than in most other major markets.

During the first seven months of 2009, Mercedes sold more than 31,000 vehicles in China, a figure that was up 49% year-on-year, and included 7,250 S-Class sedans, a model which holds a market share of 44% in the premium category.

Klaus Maier, president/ceo of the German firm's Chinese arm, said that "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."

"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," he added. 

Having launched a number of vehicles in the country over 2009 to date, including the latest B-Class, E-Class and Smart car, Mercedes intends to add more than ten further models to its portfolio there this year.

As part of this process, it introduced the new S-Class range, featuring a total of nine different variants, in the world's most populous nation last week.

One of the unique qualities of the Chinese market, according to Mercedes, is that the typical owner of an S-Class sedan is 40 years old, compared with 55 years old in Europe.

Bjoern Hauber, its general manager of sales and marketing in the Asian nation, 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 also suggested that Chinese luxury consumers are particularly interested in buying optional extras and purchasing products which have been personalised for their specific tastes.

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

Another area of growing importance is the environment, and the new S-Class range features a hybrid model which uses a lithium-ion battery.

"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.

Data sourced from China Daily/Xinhua; additional content by WARC staff