Luxury class loses significant popularity
When people say luxury sedan in Germany, they probably don’t first think of Bentley or Rolls Royce. Another model comes to mind immediately: the S-Class from Mercedes. Since the early 1970s at the latest, this car has been regarded as the epitome of luxury, reliability, safety and lasting value on four wheels. It used to be called a state car. To this day, the S-Class is the car with the most innovative technologies on the market, which are subsequently also found in the other segments. At best, the Jaguar XJ or Opel Diplomat were the first cars to be compared, because the Bentleys and Rolls Royces were in a different price range. It wasn’t until the end of the 1970s that BMW sent another competitor into the game in the form of the 7 Series. In 1994, Audi added a new challenger in form of the A8. The XJ and Diplomat have long since disappeared. And so today, all over the world, the trio from southern Germany is regarded as the crowning glory of production sedan manufacturing. JATO Dynamics therefore took a closer look at the evolution of the three high-flyers and analyzed the changes since 2002.
The first thing noticeable: All of them got bigger. All of them became heavier. And all of them became more expensive. And something else is remarkable: fewer and fewer of all three models are being sold. That’s surprising, given that the current models come from different eras. The BMW (G11) has been around since 2015, the Audi (D5) since 2017, and only the Mercedes (W223) was introduced last year. But there are even more differences.
Above all, the number of versions offered varies greatly. In 2002, there were only two versions of the A8 – with 3.7 and 4.2 liters of displacement and only with a gasoline engine. Today there are eleven variants, with three or four liters of displacement, but as diesel and gasoline engines, as mild and plug-in hybrid. Today, the BMW 7 Series can be ordered in 15 versions. Engine sizes range from a 3-liter diesel to a V12 with 6.6 liters, and it is also available as a plug-in. Nineteen years ago, there were only seven variants with displacements between 3.6 and six liters. The S-Class, on the other hand, is a completely different story. Whereas in 2002 there were no fewer than 16 different versions to choose from, today there are only a modest six – all gasoline-powered.
BMW 7 Series with lowest growth
The changes in weight are far more exciting. Whereas in 2002 the Audi was virtually a “lightweight” at just over 1,800 kilograms, today it is the heaviest of the three models at 2,175 kg. The 7 Series was the heaviest at the beginning of the 2000s at just under two tons and is now the lightest in the field at 2,070 kg. In mean time it had really slimmed down: in 2016 the BMW even weighed less than 1,950 kg. The S-Class was a good 1,900 kg in 2002 and weighs just under 2.1 tons today.
It almost goes without saying that the external dimensions of the candidates have also increased over time – the Audi in particular has grown considerably over the years. All models are longer than 5.20 meters and wider than 1.90 meters. Only the BMW has remained moderate: The 7 Series is still exactly as wide today and a good two centimeters lower.
All this doesn’t seem to have done its popularity much good. Registration figures have been falling steadily since 2002, albeit to varying degrees. This may be due to the increasing number of electric vehicles from the luxury segment, such as Tesla Model S, Polestar 2 or the new Mercedes EQS. But it is certainly also due to the price. Technical progress or not, the price has risen sharply.
Whereas the entry-level variants cost between just under 59,000 and around 66,000 euros 19 years ago, the price of all three models has risen to more than 90,000 euros. The “cheapest” last year was the BMW 7 Series at 90,200 euros. The A8 cost already 4,000 euro more and the S-class only started at 101,400 euro. Even the brightest star starts sinking eventually. If 2002 more than 10,000 pieces were still sold, even the Uber-Mercedes came on straight once scarcely 3,900 sold units in the past year. In 2006, it even found around 11,000 buyers. Sales of the 7 Series have also fallen sharply: Down from almost 9,000 to just under 3,000 units. And the Audi model? It suffered a drop in sales of around 1,700 units, from a good 4,000 in 2002 to 2,300 models sold.
Even though the S-Class has been regarded as the benchmark for the segment for decades with each new generation, its popularity, like that of the entire trio, has declined significantly. Whether its electrified successors can change that again will be exciting to watch. After all, the – supposedly more environmentally friendly – competition is getting bigger. The start-ups among the e-vehicle manufacturers in particular are forcing their way into the luxury segment.
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