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Carat eyes growing wealthy class at Shanghai auto show

By Xu Xiao (China Daily)

11:10, April 15, 2013

A Mercedes-Benz S600 modified by Carat. The company now envisions thriving growth in China. [Provided to China Daily]

Following in the footsteps of premium automakers, manufacturers of specialty vehicles are targeting the swelling ranks of China's wealthy elite.

Belgium's 135-year-old Carat Security Group, the world's leading commercial armored vehicle provider, will be looking for potential Chinese buyers at the upcoming Shanghai Auto Show, China News Service reported.

The company counts the heads of 45 countries among its past clients, including several US presidents. Harry Truman became the first US president to use a Carat vehicle when one was purchased for him in 1951.

The group mainly provides refitted limousines and SUVs for heads of state as well as armored cars for cash transportation, vehicles with ballistic glass and other kinds of top-notch defense vehicles. It also offers tailored interior designs for luxury sedans.

"In many countries in the Middle East and Africa, we only have one customer - the king or the president," said Benoit Ceulemans, vice-chairman of Carat.

He said several years ago, the group used to modify a Mercedes-Benz limousine for a king in one of the Middle East countries, and the interior decoration alone used 3 kilograms of gold.

Ceulemans said the group's major markets are now in the Middle East, Africa, Russia and Latin America. But the emerging market of China is an important target of its future development.

"However, our customer group in China is somewhat different from other countries. Senior company executives and celebrities are our target clients."

He said the company has a special after-sales service team comprising seven engineers who are ready to serve clients across the world at any time.

This is not the first time that Carat has attempted to tap into the Chinese market. At the 2011 Shanghai Auto Show, it introduced two modified Mercedes-Benz S600 models.

This time, Carat will bring two refitted Bentley cars to the Shanghai auto show.

Ceulemans said the company conducted a market survey on Chinese customers and found they have greater interest in modified and tailor-made Bentleys.

Currently, Carat has established relations with the world's top luxury automakers, including Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar Land Rover.

The latest statistics from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Ltd of Britain show that China has become an important market for luxury vehicles.

Bentley sold a record high 2,235 units in China last year, almost one-fourth of its global sales, making China its second-largest market across the world.

China's wealthy class was also a major market for other luxury auto brands, too. The country became the second-largest market for Rolls-Royce last year. And it has surpassed Jaguar Land Rover's home country Britain to become the brand's largest auto market.

Two reports released by consulting companies McKinsey and Bain at the end of last year both pointed out that the Chinese people have surpassed the Japanese to become the world's largest consumer group for luxury goods.

They purchased some 25 percent of luxury goods produced worldwide.

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