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Mercedes, BMW chase ultra rich clients with new high end cars

A BMW logo is pictured at the Jacob Javits Convention Center during the New York International Auto Show in New York April 16, 2014. REUTERS
A BMW logo is pictured at the Jacob Javits Convention Center during the New York International Auto Show in New York April 16, 2014. REUTERS

BEIJING (Reuters) - Premium auto maker BMW unveiled a luxury concept sedan in Beijing on Sunday, to gauge customer appetite for a car that would cost more than German manufacturer's current flagship 7 series limousine.

The 5 meter long vehicle, officially called the "Vision Future Luxury" but also referred to as the 9-series, is aimed at a growing class of ultra wealthy clients which are coveted by rival brands such as Bentley.

Ian Robertson, BMW Group's board member responsible for sales and marketing said the car is being presented the Auto China show in Beijing as a way to test customer opinion in the world's largest car market.

"There are a number of elements in that car and we will gauge what people say and then we will take a view," Robertson said, declining to comment on whether the vehicle, which featured carbon fiber, lime wood, and aluminum, will ever go in to production.

Robertson said that there may be a market niche for cars costing somewhere in the range between 150,000 euros and 300,000 euros and that Chinese clients in particular loved large luxurious cars.

Around half of tall the 7-series flagship models made by BMW end up being sold in China, Robertson said. BMW Group's sales in China are up 25 percent in the first quarter. For 2014 Robertson said he expects BMW Group to achieve low double digit growth.

The luxury passenger vehicle segment in China grew 20 percent last year, outpacing volume sales growth which rose 14 percent to reach 21.98 million units according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

BMW's effort comes as rival Daimler is also testing appetite for reviving its disbanded high-end Maybach brand, and as the number of millionaires across the globe continues to rise.

Since mid-2012, the number of millionaires worldwide has grown by nearly 2 million, the vast majority of them in the United States and Asia, Credit Suisse said in its World Wealth Report.

There are 98,700 individuals with assets worth more than $50 million each, and by 2018, global wealth will jump a further 40 percent to reach $334 trillion, the Swiss bank's study shows.

Upon being asked whether there was any truth to the idea that Daimler may be on the brink of reviving the Maybach brand, Zetsche smiled and said, "This is speculation. Speculation can be an inspiration for us."

Earlier this week Reuters reported that Daimler is set to showcase a Maybach branded S-Class limousine at both the Guangzhou and the Los Angeles auto shows in November.

The vehicle is set to cost more than double the 165,000-euro ($228,000) asking price of its current flagship, the Mercedes-Benz S600.

Daimler stopped making bespoke Maybach limousines in 2012 after efforts to sell cars based on a unique design and costing around $380,000 failed to gain traction with clients. Since mid-2012, the number of millionaires worldwide has grown by nearly 2 million.

Daimler also saw double digit growth in China year-to-date, and is preparing to launch a long-wheelbase version of its C-Class compact sedan as well as announcing the production of a sporty four-door all-wheel-drive coupe.

The new coupe SUV will come out mid next year and be built in the company's U.S. plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Zetsche said on Sunday.

(Reporting by Edward Taylor)

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