Auto China ‘18: The A-Class L and the Vision Maybach on trial

Is it possible to describe the Auto China show in Beijing with only three hashtags? Yes! #Gigantic, #Different, and very #Dynamic. That might sound like the perfect Scrabble match for prospective marketing managers, but in fact it’s the best description of the Show.

Once you’ve managed to make your way through the traffic of the mega-metropolis Beijing to the exhibition grounds (not an easy feat during rush hour), you’ll connect the word “growth” with a completely different context from then on. Beijing is growing, rapidly and unstoppably.

China’s new middle class is represented very graphically by the dozens of gated communities that surround the country’s capital like a belt. Names like “LeMan Lake” and “Yosemite Villas” actually sound more like settlements in Canada or the western USA, but they too seem to fit the current trend. Nothing is permanent except change.

Why China loves long versions

China’s ascent as the world’s leading economic power is unstoppable. That can be clearly seen in the sheer number of cars sold in China, among other things. An even more telling factor is the categories of the cars being sold. In China, one important feature of a car is the kind of equipment that’s installed in the back seat. Car owners don’t drive their vehicles themselves. They have Chauffeurs – at least if they own vehicles made by the premium automakers.

An “L” in the type description unequivocally indicates the long version of a model. The long version offers more legroom for the people sitting in the back. Cities seem more anonymous today than ever before because of their huge populations, and often they don’t have areas where people can withdraw and have a little privacy. Cars are exactly the right answer to this problem. They offer a third space between your house or apartment and your place of work. That way you can get away from the dense crowds while being driven through them.

Sorry – for just a moment, I was thinking like a person who heads the culture desk of a national weekly. No, I haven’t completely lost my reason. But whenever I pause and look around me for just a moment in a big city like Beijing, Shanghai or Tokyo, those are exactly the thoughts that shoot through my mind. In these cities, mobility – especially individual mobility – functions in exactly the same way it does here. But it’s still subject to constant change.

So we thought: Wouldn’t China be the ideal market for introducing a touch of class in terms of luxury and spaciousness in the compact class as well? I think we’ve accomplished exactly that with the A-Class L sedan.

The Mercedes-Benz A-Class L sedan – would you like just a little bit more?

The wheelbase is six centimeters longer, and the MBUX infotainment system connects you with WeChat and Alibaba. We want our young target group in China to treat themselves to an “L” too, and I’m sure they’ll do exactly that. The average age of Mercedes-Benz customers in China is now 36, and with the new A-Class we have the opportunity to reduce it even further.

I don’t want to go into any further details here, because you can read all of the details in the in the official press release. All the same, there’s one thing I must tell you: The L variant is surprisingly large. Does this mean the compact class of the future is no longer very compact? I guess that question has been answered, at least for China. But let’s move on to the premium category!

Ultimate luxury: The Vision Mercedes-Maybach is, above all…

grandiose! I hope the team headed by our design guru Gorden Wagener will forgive me for that thought. Even though I like to see creative design in car interiors, I still need to get used to vehicles with such “exclusive” proportions.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of the Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6. This endless hood, and a rear end that somehow reminds me of the luxury of the 1920s and 1930s. I’d love to cruise along a never-ending coastal road in this car as the sun is setting. That sounds like a cliché, but the idea is raising my pulse rate by at least 30 percent.

The Vision Mercedes-Maybach seems like the scenario “Brontosaurus emerges from hibernation.” But the point is really this: Concept cars exist in order to allow designers to really give their ideas free rein. They need to rethink entrenched processes and overcome design limits. The Vision probably exemplifies this much more radically than all the vehicles previously created by our design studio. I like not being in the mainstream, and Gorden’s design vocabulary was one of THE reasons why I took on this job at Daimler.

And of course I don’t have to decide here and now in Beijing whether the new Vision Maybach is my cup of tea. That’s apart from the fact that the vehicle is a concept car anyhow and would always be far beyond my budget as a car for daily use.

Nothing is permanent except change!

Of course we’ll continue to present our current models at Auto China in the years ahead. But the range of models will be even broader than before. In addition to the special long versions, we’ll focus even more strongly on adapting to the special requirements of this market. Docking on to the APIs of Alibaba and WeChat is necessary and important. In addition, it will offer us completely new opportunities to present features on the MBUX platform that are tailored to specific target groups. It’s no accident that we’re talking here about the first “automobile device” – and of course a subtle touch of platform economics goes with it.

If we combine this philosophy with the momentum of electric mobility, which is pervading China more broadly and comprehensively than any other market, then we are really well set up here.

In China, the bamboo tree symbolizes progress, advancement, and the dynamism of an entire country. Now, I’m not going to demand that upcoming Maybach concept cars are completely paneled in bamboo (even though it would make a lot of sense in environmental terms), but taking this spirit of change back home with us will do us a lot of good.

And yes – in order to embody this spirit of change we also need ideas and concepts such as the Vision Mercedes-Maybach, which may not appeal to everyone at first glance.

I think I’ll sit down in it once again and check it out!

Sascha Pallenberg took on the newly created position Head of Digital Content at Daimler’s Communications unit last February. An experienced online editor, he focuses on creating content at the interface between the automotive sector and the IT industry for Daimler online media.