Daimler unveils make-or-break S-Class flagship

Wed May 15, 2013 4:21pm EDT
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By Christiaan Hetzner

HAMBURG (Reuters) - Germany's Daimler (DAIGn.DE: Quote) pulled the covers off its new flagship Mercedes-Benz S-Class luxury saloon on Wednesday, a critical product launch for a company struggling to make a dent in the lead that rivals BMW and Audi enjoy in sales and profit.

Hosting over 500 international journalists in the cavernous halls of an Airbus jet plant in Hamburg and flanked by Alicia Keyes and the city's symphony orchestra, Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche revealed the first glimpses of a Mercedes that for decades has served the well-heeled.

"Image-wise the S-Class is the vehicle that most personifies Mercedes-Benz. If they get it wrong, it could damage the brand and all the vehicles under it," said Christoph Stuermer, research director at IHS Automotive in Frankfurt.

"Three generations ago (in 1991) they screwed up the S-Class and it nearly put the company on the brink, that's how important a role it plays."

The sixth-generation limousine, which was last reborn eight years ago, starts at nearly 72,000 euros ($92,600) with tax and boasts the highest levels of comfort, including air purifiers for customers in China, the car's biggest market.

Weighing up to 100 kilograms less than the previous model and boasting the lowest drag resistance in its class, noise and vibrations are harder than ever to perceive for a passenger. Particularly if they're enjoying the fully reclining seats, which massage the back using hot stones.

The S-Class has traditionally served as the showcase for Daimler's latest technology, including safety features that Mercedes helped pioneer. The S-Class in 1978 was the first car in the world to offer anti-lock brakes, for example.

Daimler has already pledged the 6D technology dubbed "Intelligent Drive" will come standard on the new S-Class. This employs a battery of sensors, a stereo camera and a proprietary algorithm to lend the vehicle "eyes" that cover 360 degrees and automatically adjust handling to the street surface.   Continued...

Two new Daimler S-Class cars (front) are displayed during a presentation at the Airbus plant in Hamburg, May 15, 2013. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer