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B-Class sales slide stumps Mercedes

Down but not out: Mercedes' B-Class has lost sales this year, but a facelift is on the way early next year.

After a strong start in 2012, Benz’s B-Class suffers a 40 per cent volume fall

Mercedes-Benz logo10 Jul 2014

MERCEDES-BENZ has admitted to being stumped by the 43 per cent plus sales slide of its B-Class in Australia, but believes the situation will be rectified once the facelifted version comes on stream in early 2015.

Speaking to GoAuto at the launch of the all-wheel drive variants of the GLA and CLA in New Zealand this week, Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific senior manager of corporate communications, David McCarthy revealed admitted to not knowing why the German hatch’s popularity is down so far this year.

“To be honest, we’re not really sure,” Mr McCarthy said.

“When you go back to the previous generation, when we took the (old) A-Class out of the catalogue (during 2010) and we respecified and repositioned B-Class, it really took off.

However, he did cite the arrival of the newer and closely related A-Class hatch, CLA sedan and GLA crossover as offering Mercedes small-car buyers more choice than ever before, adding that their record demand proves that the brand is not losing customers that may have otherwise settled on a B-Class.

“Basically until earlier this year, it’s done incredibly well. The A-Class, while not a direct competitor to that car has taken off some of the shine, but I can’t point to a particular reason why sales have dropped off.

“The segment is just as competitive as it has always been. We’ve done some marketing activity from time to time, mainly to do with monthly payments, and they’ve boosted the car a bit.

Additionally, run-out deals on the ageing C-Class sedan and wagon also seem to be taking their toll.

“If I wanted to lay some blame I’d lay it on the door of A-Class. We are seeing a bit of substitution between A-Class and B-Class, but also C-Class.

“People are coming to look at B-Class and see C-Class. With C-Class Estate (wagon) it will probably be our best year ever. Last month it did nearly 300 units – and that’s better than some whole years.

“There’s a B-Class facelift coming much later on in the year and that might generate some more interest.

“It is selling at a level that we are happy with, but we’d certainly be happier if it was selling more.”

The facelift will most likely centre on mildly different nose and tail treatments, extra equipment and technology upgrades to bring the B-Class up with its newer MFA-platform brethren, while a price drop might also be in the plan.

Far from fearing the extra competition, Mr McCarthy is counting on the arrival of the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer to stimulate demand for the B-Class from November, particularly when buyers discover the boxy Benzes’ 2015 makeover.

“There will be other people coming into the segment and I think that will create some interest,” he said.

“That segment has had some pretty strong growth, but I welcome BMW. If it creates more interest in the segment then great - it’s not something we’re afraid of… we like competition.

“Don’t forget that the B-Class was the first on the (MFA) compact-car platform.

It sold very, very well, and much better than we thought it would. Now that it has started to drop off, it’s still a healthy figure.

“And when you look at all of our compact cars, we have no reason to complain.

We are very happy. So if BMW come to the party, then good. We’ll buy them a hat.”

Launched in April 2012, the current B-Class’ sales rocketed by 60 per cent in its first full year (2013), to hit a record 3248 units, making it the second most popular Mercedes-Benz in Australia after the C-Class (which managed to snare 5963 buyers).

In the first six months of this year, however, the B-Class has slipped to sixth place in the Benz sales hierarchy with just 1103 units, behind the A-Class (2623 – up 97.5 per cent), C-Class (2401 – down 23.1 per cent), ML-Class SUV (1370 – up 5.7 per cent), Sprinter van (1261 – up 20.1 per cent) and C-Class Coupe (1196 – up 0.8 per cent).

Interestingly, when Mercedes discontinued the old-style A-Class in early 2010, sales of the first-generation B-Class improved by 184.4 per cent over 2009’s lacklustre levels (1951 versus 686 units).

The original B-Class premiered in Australia in September 2005.

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