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New Benz C-Class comes out of Africa

Turn up the volume: Mercedes’ new C-Class sedan will be imported from South Africa, which has responsibility for right-hand drive production this time around.

Mercedes set to hit the ground running with South African C-Class in Australia

19 Aug 2014

MERCEDES-BENZ Australia Pacific (MBAP) is set to source its new-generation C-Class four-cylinder sedan range from South Africa – a move that it says will almost halve its delivery time and guarantee more generous launch stocks compared with its previous German supply line.

The move puts it on an even footing with its arch rival BMW Australia, which imports all of its 3 Series sedans except the petrol-electric ActiveHybrid from its South African factory, at Rosslyn.

The factory switch by Mercedes-Benz could be critical in deciding 2014 luxury medium car sales bragging rights between the C-Class and 3 Series, which are currently level-pegging in year-to-date sales tallies, 2522 and 2533 respectively.

The C-Class has been the dominant force in the segment in for seven years, but the 3 Series seized the lead last month as Mercedes dealers ran low on stocks of the superseded C-Class.

MBAP senior manager of public relations, product and corporate communications David McCarthy said the drought would also continue this month as Australian dealers awaited delivery of customer cars for the C-Class launch that kicks off this weekend with a stock of launch vehicles made in Germany.

He said the situation would reverse in September as reinforcements arrived from South Africa, which will supply C-Class four-cylinder sedans – the C200, C250, C200 BlueTEC diesel and C250 BlueTEC diesel.

All C-Class Estates will continue to come from Germany, as will hybrid, AMG and coupe variants.

While the German cars take up to two months from initial order to delivery, the South African cars are expected to take as little as one month, thanks to the shorter supply route.

Mr McCarthy said the South African factory at East London had supplied some W203 C-Class models to Australia in the previous generation before supply reverted to the Sindelfingen plant in Germany for the current W204 model that is now in run-out.

He said South Africa, which had until recently supplied the giant US market, had been designated the main global right-hand-drive C-Class supply centre for the latest W205, shipping cars to Britain, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, as well as southern Africa.

He said this meant Australia was not having to compete for supply with big left-hand-drive markets such as Germany, particularly in the launch phase when all markets were yelling for cars.

“Right-hand drive is such a small proportion of world production,” he said.

“The advantage for us (of South African supply) is we won't be volume limited, where as if we are sharing a plant with left-hand drive, we would.

“So we won't don't expect any major blockages to volume.”

Mr McCarthy stopped short of saying C-Class would be able to wrestle back sales leadership from the 3 Series this year, saying only: “I hope so. You won't see big numbers this month. Next month you will – supply will be good. But it depends what the market does.”

Mr McCarthy declined to put a figure on full-year sales expectations for C-Class but predicted the new model would eclipse the previous generation.

“I think it is fair to say the new car will sell more than current volume,” he said.

“It has, at various times over the past seven years, been Australia's second most popular medium car and most popular luxury car.”

Last year, the aging C-Class sedan garnered 5963 sales for Mercedes-Benz, while the fresher 3 Series came second in class with 5562 sales, according to official VFACTS data.

Traditionally, the C-Class has been Mercedes-Benz’s top seller in Australia, but the advent of the new front-wheel-drive A-Class hatch has relegated it to second place so far this year.

Mr McCarthy dismissed a suggestion that the South African-made cars might be inferior to German products, saying the factory not only worked to the same Mercedes-Benz production standards but also used many parts from the same German suppliers.

Apart from the new C-Class and the current 3 Series, the latest Volkswagen Polo also is imported from South Africa.

So far this year, South African car imports are up 6.5 per cent, to 5631 vehicles, which places that nation ahead of countries such as France and Italy in import volume.

This is expected to double as C-Class sales get into their full stride.

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