Mercedes-Benz Australia has warned rivals Audi and BMW that it will become a stronger force in the SUV category once it has two key new 4WD models in showrooms by 2014.
Mercedes-Benz has had the mid-sized GLK (main picture) on sale in Europe for some years, though the model wasn’t engineered for right-hand drive to make it compatible with markets such as Australia and the UK.
This issue will be addressed with the next-generation model due in 2014, while Mercedes-Benz has already revealed it will launch a baby SUV, potentially to be called BLK, based on the ‘MFA’ platform of the B-Class (above).
“If you look at last year, in passenger cars – and take SUVS out of the equation – we’re actually number one [in luxury car sales],” says Mercedes-Benz Australia spokesman Jerry Stamoulis. “Put SUVS into the equation … and we’re not.
“There’s no doubt when you look at 2014 and forward our SUV market will be much greater. I’m not going to put a number on it but it will be considerably higher than what we’re doing today.
“We’re going to have a small SUV, which would be great to have now but hasn’t even been shown yet, but with what we’ve seen from new A-Class, if this small SUV is anything like that in an SUV way then it will be bang on the money.
“Then add GLK to equation, we’ve already got ML (pictured above)… We’ll definitely be a strong SUV player and our passenger cars will continue to do what they’re doing.”
Mercedes has plenty of catching up to do. Luxury SUV sales in 2012 so far (to April) reveal it is suffering a major market share deficit - not helped by depleted stock of the previous-model ML since December.
BMW leads the way with 2206 sales comprising the X1, X3, X5 (above) and X6 models, compared with 464 for combined sales of the Mercedes-Benz ML, G-Class and GL.
Range Rover is second with 1499 sales of the Evoque, Sport and Vogue, with Audi on its coat tails with 1353 sales of the Q3 (pictured below), Q5 and Q7.
Lexus, which is also striving to produce a more compact SUV, is slightly ahead of Mercedes with 586 sales recorded from just two models – the RX and LX.
Mercedes-Benz has acknowledged it made an error restricting the GLK for left-hand-drive markets, though Stamoulis says this has helped the Australian arm of the German brand widen the value gap to rivals such as the Q7 and X5.
“It’s frustrating we have no GLK but it gives us a little bit of bargaining power with Germany to work aggressively on the ML250 pricing.
“If you price up some of our competitors [with options] on a slightly smaller car [such as Audi Q5 or BMW X3], you’re up to an ML250. And [in the ML] you’re getting sat-nav, reverse-view camera, large alloy wheels…”
Stamoulis says supply of the ML is also slightly hindered initially, owing to demand overseas – especially in North America where the SUV is built.
He says that will improve later in 2012 as Mercedes-Benz Australia seeks to return to the pointy end of large-luxury-4WD sales. It continues to trail the segment-leading BMW X5, but the ML in 2012 has also fallen behind
The GLK and BLK will bring the total number of Mercedes-Benz SUVs on sale in Australia to five, adding to the ML, GL (above) and G-Class (or G-wagen as it's also known).
A next-generation Mercedes-Benz GL arrives in 2013, along with a facelift of the army-inspired G-Class.
Luxury SUV Sales 2012 (to April)*
Range Rover 1499
Click to read CarAdvice's review of the new Mercedes-Benz ML.