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Mercedes-Benz looks forward to SUV burst

On the cards: The production version of the Mercedes-Benz Concept Coupe SUV will arrive in Australia either late next year or early 2016.

GLK mid-size SUV to boost Mercedes-Benz next year, with MLC “coupe” not far behind

14 Apr 2014

MERCEDES-BENZ Australia/Pacific’s new-model onslaught will have a renewed focus on SUVs in the coming years as the German luxury brand tries to claw back lost ground in the all-important SUV market.

While arch rivals BMW and Audi have been growing their market share in Australia thanks to strong SUV sales, Mercedes has lagged with just two mainstream offerings in the ML-Class and the hulking GL-Class.

In contrast, BMW offers the X1 compact crossover and the X3 mid-sizer, while Audi sells the Q3 and Q5 which were the four-ringed brand’s biggest sellers in 2013, with 2897 and 3044 sales respectively.

Last week, Mercedes-Benz launched its first compact crossover – the GLA – and while this will no doubt add volume to its sales, the local allocation for 2014 is limited to 1000 units due to supply constraints and right-hand drive production timing.

Supply will free up in 2015 with the company expected to have between 1500 and 2000 units available for the Australian market.

Mercedes will be without a mid-size SUV to sit below the ML in its line-up to take on the Q5 and X3 until the arrival of the critical next-generation GLK in 2015.

The current GLK, which is a huge seller in the United States, is a left-hand drive proposition only and therefore was never a chance for the Australian market, but the second-generation model will be built for global markets including Australia.

The ‘medium sized SUV over $60,000’ segment in the monthly VFACTS sales figures may make up only 1.0 per cent of the overall market, but the aforementioned established players from Audi and BMW as well as the Volvo XC60 and the Land Rover Freelander are strong nameplates and the segment recorded 11,414 sales last year.

Speaking with GoAuto at last week’s GLA media launch, Mercedes-Benz Asia/Pacific manager of public relations and product communications David McCarthy said the GLK will be a welcome addition to the local range.

“That’s a car that has been a long time coming,” he said. “Volume is not going to be really, really huge but I think it is an important car for us. It is a segment we haven’t played in.”

Mr McCarthy said the addition of the compact GLA has “taken some of the heat off” the company in the SUV market, but the GLK will offer more space and a wider model range than its smaller stablemate.

Four-cylinder petrol and diesel powertrains and a possible six-cylinder unit have been mooted in both rear and all-wheel drive configurations for the C-Class based SUV when it arrives next year, while an AMG performance variant is also a chance.

Mr McCarthy also confirmed that the Concept Coupe SUV that is being shown at the Beijing show next week will also be added to the local line-up in production guise either late next year or in early 2016.

The BMW-X6 rival – likely to be dubbed MLC – features a sloping rear roofline that carries the silhouette of a coupe and combines it with the practicality and high ride of an SUV.

Mercedes’ two-year old ML-Class SUV is tracking well for the brand, with 605 sales for the first two months of the year, trailing only the Land Rover Discovery on 665 sales and the new-generation BMW X5 with 858 units sold.

Mr McCarthy said Mercedes’ local arm could be selling more MLs this year but has been limited by supply constraints, an issue that the company is currently in the process of addressing.

“We could easily do 20 per cent more,” he said. “It is a bit of an issue and it is being addressed right across Daimler that we bring these great products to market but in some cases we can’t make enough of them.”

The updated GL-Class that arrived in Australia in May is also experiencing high demand, with sales of 152 units for the first two months of the year marking a 198 per cent boost over the same period in 2013.

The GL is easily outselling other vehicles in its class, including the Range Rover (64 units), and the Toyota LandCruiser-based Lexus LX on 29 sales.

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