Mercedes-Benz compact carsBack in 1997, the launch of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class was more than a little controversial. Not because one famously fell over during the ‘Elk test’ (that would come later). No, it was the simple fact the three-pointed star was moving down into compact cars at all.

Many of its traditional buyers questioned whether this was cheapening the brand, stretching the luxury marque too far, at the expense of its overall appeal. Would people still dream of driving a Mercedes-Benz when they could actually do so for the price of a posh Ford Focus?

20 years on, we have the answer: yes indeed. Not only is Mercedes-Benz the world’s leading premium car manufacturer, bettering both Audi and BMW, but it’s also just celebrated selling its 5,555,555th compact A-Class-sized car.

You can only imagine the delight of the person who discovered that Merc was on track to sell an ‘all the fives’ number of small cars in the 20th anniversary month of making small cars: because today, its compact car is five-strong – A-Class, B-Class, CLA, CLA Shooting Brake and GLA SUV.

You can also only wonder at the logic of those who questioned Merc’s move into small cars. It started on 18 October 1997, when the first A-Class was delivered to a German customer. Today, buyers of the A-Class are getting ever-younger, and more of them are sticking with the Mercedes-Benz range as they move up through car sizes. An A-Class buyer today, a potential S-Class buyer in three decades’ time, it seems.

Remarkably, one in three Chinese buyers of the A-Class is under the age of 30.

The controversy back in 1997 was which premium brand had the right diversification strategy – Mercedes-Benz, with the A-Class, or BMW, with Rover Group. More than five and a half million sales of small Mercedes cars later, the answer is clear…

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