Mercedes-Benz aims to outpace 09 China market growth

SHANGHAI, April 8 Wed Apr 8, 2009 9:59am EDT

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SHANGHAI, April 8 (Reuters) - Daimler AG's (DAIGn.DE) Mercedes-Benz unit aims to outperform growth in China's luxury car market this year after a steep 50 percent rise in its March sales there, a senior executive said on Wednesday.

Mercedes-Benz, which competes with BMW (BMWG.DE) globally, sold more than 5,000 cars in China in March, Klaus Maier, president and CEO for Mercedes-Benz operations in China, told reporters.

Its sales in mainland China and Hong Kong rose 22.5 percent in the first three months of the year to 11,800 units, Daimler spokesman Trevor Hale said.

"It showed the automotive market in China has picked up again and our customers are confident," said Maier.

He added that he expected double-digit growth in China's luxury car market this year, while Mercedes-Benz would grow faster in China than the overall market.

Earlier on Wednesday, Daimler announced that it expected a considerable drop in revenue across its automotive businesses this year and pushed back its expectations of when the industry might turn around into the second half, while repeating it would post a significant loss in the first quarter. [ID:nL8442844]

China, which overtook the United States as the world's largest auto market in January, has become a relative bright spot for the global industry during the latest sharp downturn.

Although China's vehicle sales growth slowed in 2008 to the lowest annual rate in more than a decade, hobbled by the global financial crisis, demand picked up sharply in February after Beijing took policy initiatives to support the market. [ID:nSHA95534]

Daimler on Wednesday launched its Smart minicar in China at prices ranging from 158,000 to 206,000 yuan ($23,110-30,130). It will be available in 17 dealerships in 13 Chinese cities, Maier said.

More than 1 million Smart cars have been sold in 38 markets worldwide since its debut in 1998. ($1=6.836 Yuan) (Reporting by Fang Yan; Editing by Edmund Klamann)

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