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by Tim Beissmann

Mercedes-Benz Australia says its days as an SUV minnow are coming to an end.

Last week’s launch of the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class (pictured above) marked the beginning of a strong SUV product offensive from the German luxury marque in which it will double its SUV line-up in the space of two years.

The compact GLA will be followed late next year by the highly anticipated mid-sized GLK-Class, giving Mercedes-Benz a long-overdue rival to the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, while the BMW X6-inspired MLC-Class (pictured below) will take the brand’s SUV range to six model lines when it lands in local showrooms in 2016.

For years, Mercedes-Benz Australia’s SUV line-up has comprised only the large ML-Class, even-larger GL-Class, and the military-style G-Class. Combined sales in 2013 totalled 3459, with the ML leading the way at 2848 units. While those numbers represented a 12 per cent increase on the previous year, it left Mercedes humbled by fellow Germans BMW (8591) and Audi (7393), as well as British luxury SUV specialist Range Rover (4289).

mercedes-benz-concept-coupe-suv-1

But Mercedes-Benz Australia corporate communications senior manager David McCarthy said the brand could not afford to stay in fourth place for long.

“You add Audi and BMW’s passenger car sales together and it’s either a little bit less or a little bit more than ours,” McCarthy started,” [but] SUVs are where we’ve been at a big disadvantage.

“ML we’re capacity constrained, we just can’t get enough. GL we can and we’re doing quite well. G-Wagon continues 100 units a year or something like that. We need [GLA] and we need GLK. If we don’t increase our SUV sales eventually they’ll catch us – we need to be in those segments.”

McCarthy said GLA supply would be constrained to about 1000 units this year but promised “substantially more” would be available in 2015. Lead times for GLA customers are expected to grow from their current level of one to two months as the year progresses but should come back in 2015.

Mercedes-Benz-GLK

The public relations boss said the local brand was still finalising its plans for the GLK (pictured above), which could potentially become its top-selling SUV.

“We haven’t decided absolutely yet whether we’re going to take rear-wheel drive,” McCarthy said. “Obviously we’ll take 4Matic (all-wheel drive). I like rear-wheel drive, obviously there are economy advantages.

“There will be four-cylinder petrols and diesels, and there’ll be at least one six-cylinder. I don’t know if there will be an AMG – personally I’d love there to be one.

“It’s going to be an interesting car because there’s a huge built-up demand for it. We had a lot of customers that were very upset that we couldn’t bring them the previous generation of it because they’d driven it in Europe or the States and loved it.”

Asked whether Mercedes-Benz could eventually outsell BMW an Audi to become the top-selling luxury SUV brand in Australia, McCarthy acknowledged it would be a challenge but said the brand was determined to succeed in the SUV market.

“It would be nice. We’ve got a long way to go, both those brands are very strong. I think our product is every bit as good, but it takes time.

“But yeah, it’d be nice to be number one.”




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