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Mercedes drops R-Class for Australia

Gap-filler: Mercedes will fill the void left by the departing R-Class by offering a cheaper E-Class Estate variant, with seven seats (left).

Axe swings on niche Mercedes R-Class people-mover in Australia

Mercedes-Benz logo14 Jun 2013

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

IF YOU’RE one of the small number of people in the market for a Mercedes R-Class people-mover then be quick, because the company plans to axe it.

While the company maintains the luxury crossover filled a niche in Australia, it was never a big seller. As a result, Benz will not add any more shipments beyond what is already on the ground here.

In its place, the three-pointed star has introduced a new entry level version of the just-facelifted E-Class wagon, with the requisite seven seats, called the E200.

At $86,900, this new Estate – the cheapest of its kind in this generation – undercuts the base R-Class short-wheelbase by $6500. Meantime, the E250 Estate is expected to soak up whatever demand remains for the R350 LWB.

The newly repositioned E-Class Estate range will have broader appeal for seekers of seven-seater wagons that aren’t SUVs, says manager of corporate communications for Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific David McCarthy Along with the new 135kW/300Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-powered E200 Estate, there is also the 150kW/500Nm E250 Estate CDI turbo-diesel, and E400 Estate with a new 245kW/480Nm 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6.

“The R-Class is now out of production (for Australia),” said Mr McCarthy. “That served a purpose (with its) seating capacity under $100,000.

“A lot of people drive estates, and there’s a real niche there – particularly in the E-Class market. Buyers keep coming back.

“So we think it’s important to offer an alternative to an SUV, and there was an opportunity for us to position the E200 Estate close to R-Class pricing, (while) offering a different proposition.” While Mr McCarthy would not be drawn on what Mercedes-Benz’s volume expectations are for the E-Class wagons, he is confident that the E200 Estate will help grow the business for the company.

“For us it is a strategic decision. Hopefully there will be incremental volume,” he revealed. “The demise of the R-Class created a gap for us, and this is one of the way we are going to fill it.” Due to reasons of complexity and cost, there are no plans afoot to introduce a cheaper diesel version of the E-Class wagon, even though every R-Class variant sold in Australia since 2010 has been a diesel.

“The model mix eventually you end up with so many models, and there’s a cost to that, and some aren’t of a high volume, so you try and compress that, to give customers what they want,” Mr McCarthy added.

“It’s the nature of the market.” With only 90 units sold so far in 2013, R-Class volume in Australia is less than half to that of the same time last year. Sales rarely rose above 250 units annually, with 2011’s 324 unit result being the model’s best year.

Based on the previous-generation W164 ML-Class SUV, the US-built 251-series R-Class was Mercedes’ foray into the multi-seat crossover territory.

Launched in Australia in April 2006, it was initially offered in a range of petrol and diesel engines in V6 and V8 capacities.

Slow sales in most parts of the world forced the company to unveil a facelift in 2009, although the R-Class has sold strongly in China since its release.

The R-Class will therefore continue to be produced, but only in China, for the Chinese market.

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