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Mercedes targets performance enthusiasts with China-built AMG
Christiaan Hetzner | 2019/4/30

SHANGHAI -- Daimler will begin building Mercedes-AMG cars in China when the A 35 long-wheelbase sedan runs off the assembly line in Beijing toward year end.

Daimler now exports the Germany-built Mercedes-AMG A 45, a high-powered version of the A-class compact car, to China. It's the entry level AMG in China and is the performance subbrand's top-selling AMG import.

The A 45's popularity signals that young Chinese customers, in particular, are developing a taste for powerful vehicles even though much of China's infrastructure consists of clogged city roads poorly suited for sports cars and traffic cameras that clamp down on speeding. 

Typically, even large luxury cars in China have underpowered engines, partly for tax reasons, but it's also difficult to go fast on most Chinese roads so powerful vehicles are not needed.

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said he recently had an encouraging conversation with the head of Lei Shing Hong Holding, the largest Mercedes dealer in China.

"They want to focus more on AMG because they see a huge potential," Zetsche said on the sidelines of the Shanghai auto show. Other dealers also see an opportunity, Zetsche said.

LSH Holding's dealerships sell about 30 percent of all Mercedes' volume in China. The company has opened a showroom in Beijing that sells AMG models exclusively and plans a second AMG showroom in Shanghai.

The A 35 L 4MATIC will be built at Daimler's Chinese joint venture with BAIC. Its wheelbase is stretched by 60 mm (2.4 inches). It is powered by a 302-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine sourced from Daimler's plant in Koelleda, Germany, and can accelerate from 0 to 100 kph (62 mph) in 4.9 seconds. The A 45 has 376 hp.

Nicholas Speeks, head of Mercedes-Benz sales for China, said more customers were being drawn to AMG vehicles. While some bought an S 63 sedan or G 63 SUV for the prestige of owning the most powerful version, others bought it for emotional attributes such as sound, he said.

Speeks said demand for AMG vehicles in China remains below the penetration rate of other major markets such as Germany and the U.S., but the country is among the top five simply because of the market's huge size.

To further spur interest, Mercedes will build an AMG brand experience center at the independently run Zhejiang Circuit in Shaoxing. Drivers will have the opportunity to try out their own cars in a high-speed environment, while dining at restaurants and lodging at a hotel near the track. 

The center will allow AMG customers used to heavy traffic in cities such as Beijing to push their vehicles to the limit, or alternatively to improve their skills under supervision from trained instructors.

The track borrows a strategy from Porsche, which opened a similar experience center and race track next to the Shanghai Formula One circuit last year.

Speeks said Daimler will not build other long-wheelbase AMGs in China. The automaker also has no plans to produce Mercedes Maybach ultraluxury models in the country even though they remain popular with China's superrich.

"There is a tradition and a history behind AMG -- German engineering out of Afalterbach," he said. The long-wheelbase A 35 was an exception because Daimler already builds a long-wheelbase A class in China, Speeks said.

"We are well served with everything else, including the Maybach, an S-class derivative, being built in Germany," he said.

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