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Mercedes A-Class wait times shrinking

Mr popular: Mercedes-Benz Australia will get "far beyond" its global share of GLAs, but expects more demand than supply nevertheless.

Benz A-Class buyers will start taking delivery quicker, with local supply on the up

Mercedes-Benz logo28 Aug 2013

MERCEDES-BENZ Australia admits supply shortfalls have stopped strong A-Class sales from being even stronger, but says the days of six-month wait times on non-AMG versions are over.

The brand’s smallest model has proven to be among its most popular since hitting local showrooms in late February, with its sub-$36k starting price pitching it as much at the likes of Volkswagen’s (less premium) Golf as its BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 arch-rivals.

Its 1636 unit annual sales figure outstrips both the BMW and the Audi, and since its launch it has been Australia’s top-selling premium small-car, averaging about 300 sales per month.

But in some ways the car has been a victim of its own success, with local stock failing to keep up with voracious early demand from younger, frequently first-time Benz buyers attracted to the unique styling and comparatively affordable starting price.

The result was a reported six-month waiting list on most variants. But, a combination of increased capacity at Mercedes’ European factories (ours come from Germany, but they’re also made in Finland and Hungary) and adjusted global distribution is easing the strain.

(It’s) a combination of both,” says Mercedes-Benz Australia Pacific general manager of passenger sales Richard Emery, adding that the local market’s disproportionate number of profitable AMG sales has given MBA added clout to get extra build approved by headquarters.

“I think they built extra capacity in their factories because the car’s been quite successful globally, but also… there are places in Europe that are nowhere near where they thought they were going to be, so places like Spain they might have said initially they were going to do 10,000 A-Classes, but they go back to 8000 and there’s 2000 spare all of a sudden,” he said.

“If you were building to order today, you’re talking December or maybe January, but if you’re a bit flexible you could have it inside a month. We have some cars on the ground, and while they’re getting eaten up pretty quickly, I doubt anyone is being told to wait six months anymore.

“With a regular compact car, you really want just a different colour and maybe a few little different packages, and if you’re told six months I think that’s too long to wait. We were losing some sales, not because they didn’t want the car, but just because they weren’t prepared to wait.”

Mr Emery also said the company was surprised that the purchase rate of the $49,900, 155kW A 250 hot hatch was staying so strong. Almost half of all A-Class’s sold so far have been this variant. The Golf GTI-rivalling A 250 served as the flagship of the range until this week’s A45 AMG launch.

"It’s hanging on longer than we thought it would, you normally do get the early adopters that buy the car with everything when you first launch, but 250 is staying right up there,” he said.

Successful as Mercedes’ downsizing formula has been, it doesn’t stop here. The modular platform that underpins the A- and B-Class hatchbacks also underpins the forthcoming CLA sedan (October) and GLA SUV (April).

According to Mr Emery, the CLA will, like the A-Class, snare some buyers who would have strayed away from the three-pointed star brand.

“I think there’s been a few people in the last few months say ‘I’m not sure if I’m a CLA owner or an A-Class owner’, and we’ll be interested to see once CLAs hit showrooms how they’ll react to both cars,” he said.

“Dealers tell us they’re attracting two very different owners, some people have said ‘A-Class isn’t for me’, so they were going to go buy a non Mercedes-Benz, so the fact we have another product to say ‘hang in there, you might be able to own a Mercedes-Benz after all’ is a promising thing for us.”

The GLA, meantime, is shaping up to have just as big an impact on the local market as the A-Class, giving Benz its first proper look into Australia’s booming small SUV market.

Despite securing “far beyond” its global share of the forthcoming GLA small SUV, early bites suggest this high-riding A-Class derivative may potentially face a similar supply/demand discrepancy.

“It’s a significant segment in Australia, and we’re not even in it. Nor that or the medium segment because we don’t have GLK either,” said Mr Emery.

“So GLA is significant for us, and we’re getting far beyond our global share because they understand that, but I think it’s still not going to be enough.”

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