The launch of the new A-class has been the most successful in Mercedes’ history, boss Dieter Zetsche has revealed.

He said the firm had taken 70,000 pre-orders in western Europe alone, one for every 10 people that attended pre-launch events.

He also revealed Mercedes’ absence in key markets such as the small SUV sector was making the firm lag behind Audi and BMW’s growth in China.

“These are not excuses, and we will close the gap in the next five years,” said Zetsche, who has set his company the goal of being the largest premium car maker by 2020.