Aug. 31 - Sales of Mercedes-Benz Smart car soars more than eight-fold in the last five years, mostly thanks to increasingly wealthy Chinese consumers. Hayley Platt reports.
Don Hang is one of 5,000 Chinese motorists who've bought a Smart car this year. In a country where size equals status the pint-sized all-electric vehicle has become an unlikely bestseller. Designed and made by Germany's Mercedes-Benz it's proving a smash hit - especially with the young and trendy. (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) 27-YEAR OLD SMART CAR OWNER DONG HAN SAYING: "These days young people still prefer more unusual things - if all the cars on the roads are the same, I would feel that it's very meaningless. So when you take this car out on the road, everyone takes notice of it more, and those that are not familiar with it will ask you hey what car is this, and what's the brand? And that makes us really happy." Klaus Maier, the company's China president and CEO, says it's a lifestyle brand. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MERCEDES-BENZ CHINA PRESIDENT AND CEO KLAUS MAIER SAYING: "It fits into the fast-changing needs of the Chinese customers, which means they are looking for something very special like a premium brand in the small car segment, a lifestyle product which cares for the environment, so there are a lot of reasons why this car is so successful in China." But it wasn't always the case - in 2009 when the global car industry was hit by the credit crunch, China bought less than 2,000 Smart cars. Then came a slick advertising campaign featuring U.S. basketball superstar Kobe Bryant - a household name in China. The price also helped - at between $18,000 and $35,000 dollars the Smart car is cheaper than rivals like the Mini or Beetle. Analyst John Zeng agrees small cars are definitely becoming more popular. (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) DIRECTOR OF J.D. POWER ASIA PACIFIC FORECASTING JOHN ZENG SAYING: "In the recent years we have seen the demand for luxury lifestyle cars such as Smarts and Minis increase, but it's a relatively recent development. We can see that Minis and Beetles have entered the Chinese market for ten years now, and the sales have currently reached just about 100,000 vehicles a year." Europe is still the Smart car's biggest market. But a growing number of China's young motorists are clearly keen to be part of the Smart set. Hayley Platt Reuters.