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by Jez Spinks

Mercedes-Benz believes it is set for a significant period of growth in Australia with its new range of compact vehicles.

The German car maker has this week staged the international launch of the CLA four-door coupe (main picture), the third model after the B-Class MPV and A-Class hatchback to be spun off Mercedes’ new MFA modular small-car architecture.

A baby SUV called the GLA will follow in 2014 as the other confirmed compact model, while the company this week admitted a downsized cabriolet model and hybrid variants could also go into production as it aggressively targets young buyers.

“The brand is going through a growth period, and the new vehicles coming will work in our market,” says Mercedes-Benz Australia spokesman Jerry Stamoulis.

“With GLA [baby SUV], GLK [a mid-sized SUV], CLA and A-Class (below), a full year of production would see significant growth.

“We need to see what the market does, but we have the cars in place in the next two years to take it any way the market swings.”

Mercedes-Benz Australia sold 22,397 vehicles in 2012 including commercial vehicles, and its expanded range of compact models could comfortably see it surpass 25,000 units by 2014.

The number of vehicles produced on the compact modular platform will reach 400,000 per year, according to the company.

The Mercedes-Benz CLA is essentially a junior version of the CLS that started the four-door ‘coupe’ trend in 2004. Due locally in late 2013, it’s based on the A-Class hatch that has recently launched locally and starts at $35,600.

The CLA is expected to start from about $50,000, positioning it below the company’s volume-selling C-Class range that begins at $58,600.

The pricing of the A-Class and CLA pitch the models directly against high-end mainstream hatchbacks and mid-sized sedans respectively.

Mercedes, however, says it is not deliberating targeting models such as the Golf with the A-Class, and denies its downsizing strategy won’t dumb down the brand.

“Targeting is a strong word,” says Stamoulis. “It’s about getting people into the brand at an earlier stage in their lives. If you get people into cars earlier, they’ll be pleasantly surprised by the car and understand the brand’s philosophy and continue to buy Mercedes-Benzes.

“If you go back 30 years ago when the Mercedes 190 came out, people called it the ‘baby Benz’ and said it was going to devalue the brand, but they were wrong.

“This could be history repeating.”

Mercedes-Benz expects the C-Class (below) to remain its biggest-selling model despite the CLA that is more affordable and is actually slightly longer before a larger all-new C-Class arrives in 2014.

The company believes there will be minimal cannibalisation of C-Class sales as a result of the CLA.

“The CLA is different to C-Class,” says Stamoulis. “A C-Class buyer might not find practicality in the CLA but the CLA is more practical than a C-Class Coupe.

“If you want to stand out from the crowd, and have the latest technology as well as good fuel efficiency… From a brand that’s been around the longest, there are a few boxes ticked there.

“We need to keep reinventing ourselves.”

Mercedes head of development for compact cars, Hansjorg Schinke, said at the CLA launch that a cabriolet based on the ‘MFA’ front-drive/all-wheel-drive platform “could be an opportunity”.

He also confirmed the platform was “package protected” for hybrid systems.