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'We made a mistake': Merc admits it missed SUV boat

Back on track: Professor Thomas Weber says new low-cost, highly flexible architectures allow for right-hand-drive flexibility.

Merc board member says error won’t be repeated, SUV boom to stretch on 'forever'

Mercedes-Benz logo20 Jul 2015

By TIM ROBSON

A MERCEDES-BENZ board member has admitted that the company missed a golden opportunity when it built the outgoing GLK C-segment SUV only in left-hand drive, but it sees no end to the current SUV boom.

Daimler AG board member and head of Mercedes-Benz research and development Thomas Weber told Australian journalists at the launch of the GLK’s successor, the GLC, that not designing the previous model in right-hand drive had been “a mistake”.

“In the first instance we were not sure if the overall volume is big enough, and therefore with the GLK we focused on the core market,” he said. “But of course with the success of the SUVs, it was a mistake.

“If you recognise it a little bit too (late), then it's not possible later on to introduce such a version during a lifecycle.”

The GLK still managed to notch up more than 650,000 sales in seven years across Europe and the United States.

Mercedes' arch rivals Audi and BMW have since made large inroads into the premium mid-sized SUV sector in recent years with the Q5 and the X3 respectively, in markets such as the United Kingdom and Australia, while Mercedes Benz Australia/Pacific (MBAP) has never had a product in the sector.

Audi has moved 2142 versions of the Q5 thus far in 2015, up 32.5 per cent, while BMW has sold 1644 X3s to the end of June, a rise of 16 per cent over the same period in 2014.

Mr Weber pointed out that the call on GLK was a decision taken ten years ago, when success in the SUV market was not expected.

“We didn't believe there is such a huge demand,” he noted. “In the meantime, years ago, we decided we will go for a full SUV line-up that gives us now the opportunities missed some years ago.”

Mr Weber pointed out that Mercedes is now more receptive to the notion of designing vehicles for all markets right from the point of inception.

“The right-hand drive is getting more and more important, (so) why the hell we should miss opportunities in this important fast-growing market?” he said.

“With the ability to be faster, more flexible, more computer-based, with less hardware, we are able in the meantime to do more variants for less money, and therefore profitability and the result is better even if the share of such additional runs is small.”

He also believes that the current trend towards SUVs will continue for the foreseeable future, replying “never” when asked when the boom might end.

“The biggest trend around the globe is the trend to SUVs,” he said “Why? Higher sitting position, more freedom, and independence also from tough, rough conditions. One critical argument in the past was always fuel consumption, but in the meantime with new technology we can definitely overcome this topic.”

The MRA-based GLC was designed from the outset with right-hand drive in mind, with all variants – including the forthcoming 350h plug-in hybrid, the 450 Sport and the GLC63 AMG – to be made in both right and left hook.

The GLC goes on sale in Australia – and worldwide – in December in three variants an entry-point 220d diesel, 250d diesel and a 250 petrol.

MBAP indicated that the 450 Sport would arrive in the second half of 2016, and would, based on current form in other model line-ups, become the volume player for the GLC line-up.

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