China has the world’s largest new vehicle market – 19.3 million units (of which 15.5 million were passenger vehicles) in 2012 – and just about every global player has to be there. The big numbers are so enticing; even a small percentage of that annual volume is still plenty of cars to be sold.
And the luxury market is also booming as the newly-rich want to show off their success, hence the strong presence of companies like Rolls-Royce, which has its largest showroom in the world there.
Meeting customer demands is one way to get more buyers and China is perhaps the only place in the world where long-wheelbase (LWB) variants are specially produced. Customers in China want that extra length which ‘amplifies’ their successful image and the carmakers oblige. The potential volume is so great that it justifies the additional cost of engineering a longer body (not just a ‘cut-and-weld’ affair). And it’s not just the large models that get LWB variants but also models like the BMW 3-Series and Volkswagen Tiguan.
This week, at the Shanghai Motorshow, Porsche also introduced the LWB Panamera Executive (which is also sold in some lefthand drive markets) while Mercedes-Benz added a LWB variant of its E-Class to the range.
The new Panamera Executive is available as a Turbo or 4S version and has 15 cm more wheelbase compared to the standard variant. The extra wheelbase is given entirely to the rear occupants who get bucket seats and additional comfort features. The Executive variants also have the innovative Panamera air suspension system which maintains the dynamic qualities that Porsches are famous for.
As for the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, this has the familiar styling of the current W121 generation with an extra 140 mm of overall length to take it to 5.019 metres. The extra length gives exactly the same amount of legroom in the rear section of the car.
The LWB variant is said to ‘radiate status and effortless superiority, meeting the Chinese market’s expectations of luxury vehicles more effectively than the comfortable E-Class with standard wheelbase’. For special convenience, the front passenger seat can also be electrically-adjusted from the rear.
For the first time, the LWB E-Class is available with two different front ends. The Sedan features the classic, three-dimensional saloon radiator grille in three-louvre look with the Mercedes star on the bonnet while the Sport Sedan comes with the sporty front end featuring a centrally-positioned star.
Customers can choose from three versions – E 260 L, E 300 L and E 400 L – and the Sport sedan features AMG kit. Additional powertrains are said to be planned for the LWB variant, including a hybrid. The LWB variants are only intended for sale in China.