Mercedes-Benz is adding a long wheelbase to its smallest sedan, a combination developed solely for the behemoth Chinese market.
The Mercedes-Benz A-Class L, which premiered Wednesday in Beijing at Auto China 2018, is 2.4 inches longer than the standard model and includes features designed to resonate with China’s young drivers such as a large backseat and a smartphone-like interface.
The car, which will be built in China, is the brand’s fifth model made specifically for what Mercedes-Benz Chair Dieter Zetsche called its “single most important market.” Sales in mainland China for Mercedes and its Smart brand rose 26% last year to 610,000 vehicles.
Targeting young, first-time car owners, Mercedes is positioning the A-Class L as the first and only long wheelbase model in China’s fast-growing premium compact segment.
“Many are buying a Mercedes as their very first car,” Nicholas Speeks, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz China, said at the car’s millennial-studded reveal in Beijing Tuesday night. China, where the average age of a Mercedes customer is 36, represents a new generation of compact car buyers looking for fresh technology and design, he said. The small sedan is “the first response to that challenge from the urban young.”
In China, the world’s largest and fastest-growing automotive market, close to 70% of buyers have never owned a car before, compared with 5 to 10% in a mature economy. Mercedes says about a quarter of its sales go to first-time buyers and that its Chinese customers are, on average, far younger than in any of its other markets.
The long wheelbase sedan is a popular body style in China, where drivers tend to ferry more friends and family members, including in-laws and grandparents. Mercedes says that close to 60% of Chinese car owners use the backseat at least once a week, about double that of its German customers. The A-Class L’s spacious rear cabin aims to accommodate “even the most discerning grandparent,” Speeks said.
Still, the A-Class is primarily designed to appeal to a youthful audience. Its user interface understands natural speech, include Mandarin and other Chinese dialects, and integrates with the popular WeChat MyCar messaging app. The system also includes a feature that lets reveling car owners summon a driver to take them home in their own car.
The car is scheduled to reach dealerships in China by the end of the year.