Mercedes-Benz India's ten most iconic cars of the last 25 years
Unlike many other developing countries, we in India have the privilege to be able to clearly pinpoint the two events that have led the car industry to achieve the growth and success that it has over the years, a few cyclical slumps aside. The first of these was in 1983, when the first Maruti 800 rolled off the assembly line. The second is the July 1, 1991, when a grave economic crisis caused the government to liberalise the Indian economy, ending the earlier protectionist tendencies and opening up the market to foreign investment.
There is also a third milestone. One that is sometimes overlooked because its immediate, tangible effect might not have been apparent. This was in 1994, when Mercedes-Banz announced that it would be the first luxury carmaker to set up a manufacturing facility here. That year, 2.6 lakh cars were sold in India, 80 per cent of which were Maruti Suzukis. To put that number into perspective, just in November 2019, 2.62 lakh cars were sold.
So the firm needed to start from the ground up. It began as a joint venture with TELCO, as Tata Motors was known back then, and had a tough first few years. This was because the market for luxury cars was catered too entirely through imports, which also were in a similar price bracket at the W124 E-Class. Things really started moving by 2000, as the India market began to develop and buyer preferences started changing. By 2009, Mercedes-Benz set up its own facility in Chakan, with compatriots BMW and Audi entering the market in 2007. As of 2018, it has sold over 100,000 cars in India, with half of those happening in four years from 2014.
Which means that 2019 is the 25th year of operations for Mercedes-Benz India. To commemorate that, here are the 10 cars that have been most impactful in making it the best selling luxury car maker in India
1995: E-Class W124
The first mid-sized Mercedes sedan to be officially called the E-Class, the W124 may also be the most revered of all E-Classes. It debuted numerous new production processes for the company globally and is legendary for its build-quality and exceptional engineering. It's very easy to find many of them having clocked over 10 lakh km and still running perfectly. Sadly, it wasn't much of a hit for the brand here in India, MB launched it here just as it was being phased out globally. This and the higher price didn't help matters but as a showcase for the brand and for it Mercedes-Benz India to gauge what customer wanted in a luxury car, it was perfect. We got the W124 in its E 200 and E 250D guise.
2000: S-Class W220
By this time, the W210 E-Class had started bringing in the numbers. This set the stage for the W220 S-Class to do what S-Classes have always done. It was the most expensive locally assembled car you could buy here at the time at Rs 65 lakh. But you got your money's worth, with more space than ever before on the inside, new tech like ventilated seats, air-suspension, keyless access and the debut of the 'Pre-Safe' safety tech.
2001: C-Class W203
This was possibly the most important car for the brand up to this point. With its roughly Rs 20 lakh price tag when it launched, the C-Class immediately started to account for half of all Mercedes' sold in India. This is because it made a full-fledged luxury car accessible to a much larger audience. The D-segment in our country was flourishing at the time with cars like the Ford Mondeo and Opel Vectra, but the C-Class's smart packaging hurt those cars quite a bit.
2001 - SL-Class R230
After the C-Class, Mercedes' partnership with Tata Motors(TELCO) came to an end. The carmaker was now under the direct control of DaimlerChrysler. It began to also start bringing in CBU imports at that time, starting with the flagship SL-Class sportscar. This line is a direct descendant of the legendary 300 SL and in the 300PS SL 500 specification that it was sold here in, it became another big brand-builder. Mercedes was now being seen as not just a maker of sensible luxury cars, but as a company that made desirable cars in general.
2004: SLK-Class R171
We got the second-gen roadster here at around Rs 60 lakh. A fair price for one of the few small roadsters you could buy in the country at the time. The SLK was aggressive looking, techy and along with first-gen CLS also available at the time, and the SL from above, Mercedes suddenly had a large line-up of sporty, niche cars.
Mercedes SLS AMG GT Final edition
2010 Mercedes SLS AMG
The luxury car-market was now a whole different ballgame with BMW and Audi firmly established here. This had hurt Mercedes' dominance, the new entrants with their fresh products getting more attention from buyers. Mercedes-Benz moved to a larger independent facility in Chakan by 2009 and had started introducing its AMG performance cars here to gain an edge. The most notable of these was the SLS AMG. Priced at upwards of Rs 2 crore here, the SLS AMG was the performance arm's first bespoke model. Its 6.3-litre V8 was the most powerful N/A motor at the time with its 571PS and top-speed of over 300 kmph. Just to top things off, all of this performance was contained in a front-mid engined coupe body style with more than a hint of the 300 SL. It also got those iconic gull-wing doors from the original.
2014: S-Class W222
The current generation S-Class was another huge technological leap forward. But in India, it seemed to also turn the brand's fortunes around after a somewhat lean period. It got the brand's newest design language, the exceptionally well-appointed interiors that have now trickled right down to the C-Class and new tech like Magic Body Control adaptive suspension system. The extensive 2018 facelift was another big milestone, becoming the first BSVI-compliant car assembled in India and also debuting the brand's suite of guidance systems for the first time.
The Mercedes A-Class A180 has been shot by Gaurav Thombre
2014: A-Class W176
Even four laters, up to third of Mercedes' sales come from its smallest family of cars. The A-Class shifted to a FWD construction for its third generation and spawned a whole family of small cars with the CLA coupe-sedan and GLA. The striking looks, typically Merc levels of quality and lower entry price into the brand have all
The fascia of the new SUV has a redesigned grille and restyled headlamp elements
2016: GLC-Class X253
We got our first Mercedes SUV in the second-gen ML by the early 2000s, but it was the GLC that got the ball rolling for the brand in the SUV. A late entrant, which came here when the Q5 and X3 were very well established, the GLC struck out by being a very strong package with the right engine options, features and looks. The fact that it also more cost-effect to own than its rivals means that it now the most popular SUV in the Mercedes line-up.
2017: E-Class LWB W213
A risk that has paid immense dividends for the brand. For the fifth-generation E-Class, Mercedes-Benz India decided to specifically develop a RHD version of the long-wheelbase E-Class from China. The added 140mm rear space has completely transformed the rear-seat experience. The idea is to mimic the S-Class' ambience and the E-Class seems to have perfectly met the brief, given that it now the largest selling luxury car in India currently.