Production of Mercedes-Benz A-class cars has smashed the 500,000 barrier and Britain has emerged as a key market for the trend-setting car.

It has taken less than three years for the half-a-million mark to be reached and in the UK A-class sales are continuing to increase in a segment of the market that is showing an overall decline.

The A-class was launched in Britain in September 1998 and total sales now exceed 30,000.

Dermot Kelly, Director of Mercedes-Benz Passenger Cars in the UK, said: "The UK has proved an exceptionally strong market for the A-class which has won the hearts and minds of thousands of people who had never previously thought of buying a Mercedes.

"We are gaining new customers every day. People like the style, practicality, safety and low running costs of the A-class. But what's most interesting is the broad appeal of the car. We get as many accolades from business users as we do from young women drivers and the increasing number of family drivers who are changing to the A-class from other brands."

Britain ranks as a major market for the A-class, just behind Italy but ahead of France, the rest of the Continent and Japan. Germany remains the biggest market with 241,000 sales since launch.

In the UK the A160 is the most popular model with 12,483 sales since launch, followed by the A140 (11,340) and the more recently introduced A170 CDI diesel (4,450). Last year the flagship 1.9-litre A190 was added to the range and sales now exceed 1,700.

More than 80 per cent of A-class buyers in the UK are first-time Mercedes owners and a third of them are women. Silver is the most popular colour.

Recommended retail on-the-the-road prices for the A-class start at £12,790 for the A140 Classic. Like all Mercedes-Benz cars, the A-class has a three-year unlimited mileage warranty and a 30-year mobilo life cover. Mobilo life is the unique package of roadside assistance and an anti-corrosion guarantee, which effectively gives lifetime protection to all new Mercedes cars.