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GLC the key for Benz

Name game: Benz's GLE (left) and GLE Coupe will arrive in Australia in September ahead of the Audi Q5-baiting GLC.

Forthcoming GLC and GLE SUVs will lure buyers back to Mercedes' SUV line-up

12 Jun 2015

MERCEDES-BENZ will attempt to claw back ground it has lost in the SUV market, particularly in the competitive premium mid-size segment, with the impending arrival of its C-Class-based GLC later this year.

Without an offering in the premium mid-size SUV segment in Australia, the German car-maker has been left behind by rivals Audi and its dominant Q5 and BMW with its X3, while other players including Land Rover, Volvo and Porsche have also been taking their share of the SUV pie.

While Mercedes sells the mid-size GLK in other markets, Australia missed out on the left-hand-drive-only proposition, leaving a big hole in Benz's local line-up.

However, Mercedes ripped the covers off the GLC Coupe concept at the Shanghai motor in April, previewing a production version of the swoopy SUV which will be built and sold alongside a more conventional mid-size crossover, dubbed GLC, that will go on sale in Australia in December this year.

Speaking with media at the CLA Shooting Brake launch in Victoria this week, Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific CEO Horst von Sanden aired his frustration at not having a mid-size offering, but said he was excited about the arrival of the GLC.

“It's finally completing our SUV offering,” he said. “I never made a secret of the fact I was very disappointed that we didn't get the first compact, then called GLK.

“But we couldn’t do anything about it and for that reason we missed out for a whole life-cycle participating in what was, for a long time, the fastest-growing SUV segment. So finally we are very excited to have a complete range from GLA, GLC, GLE and GLS. We finally have the lot.”

The production-ready GLC is expected to be revealed in Europe later this month.

The GLE and GLS are the new monikers for the ML and GL-Class SUVs, following the introduction of Benz's new naming policy that aligns an SUV with its equivalently positioned passenger-car model.

Mr von Sanden dismissed suggestions the GLC is simply a high-riding version of the C-Class, adding that it is its own model.

“No it is not just a jacked-up C-Class then it wouldn't be successful. It is a standalone concept. Certainly it's based on C-Class that is not a secret, but it is not just a pumped C-Class.”

He also said that it was unlikely that the GLC would overtake the C-Class as Mercedes' best-selling model in Australia, despite the growing popularity of SUVs.

“No. The segment is not there. If you look at the compact-SUV segment it is not as big.”

Mr von Sanden said he was confident of the GLC's performance against the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, but added that it will be an attractive product and will appeal to buyers in the segment.

“I don't know. And honestly I don't care. In the end I am happy that we have the complete offering. We suffered a lot for not participating in the lower segment and we see how we go.

“It will be an attractive product, especially the new GLC. I have seen it at our last product forum and I am very excited to bring it here and I am sure it will be very successful. Will it beat someone who is currently market leader? I don't know.”

The GLE, which is essentially an extensive mid-life update for the ML-Class large SUV, will arrive in Australian showrooms in September at the same time as the BMW X6-rivalling GLE Coupe, and Mr von Sanden said while the new naming convention might throw some buyers, the strategy makes sense from a branding perspective.

“I think it will certainly make the whole M-Class range more attractive. The new naming might initially cause a bit of confusion, but that is probably the price we have to pay to make it logical, because now it is consistent and in line with passenger-car naming, so once people get used to it, it makes a lot of sense.”

Mr von Sanden said the introduction of the GLE Coupe will add a bit of spice to the large-SUV segment, and should help boost interest in Benz's family friendly wagon.

“You have another choice between the traditional GLE and the GLE Coupe and having seen the GLE Coupe, I have to say there will be a fair bit of interest, it's a good looking car.”

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