Mercedes chief targets sales record on coupe-like SUV

Dorothee Tschampa
Bloomberg News

Mercedes-Benz plans to make 2015 its fifth straight year of record annual sales on demand for new models like the coupe version of the GLE sport-utility vehicle.

“I expect a very good year for Mercedes-Benz” in 2015, Dieter Zetsche, chief executive officer of Mercedes parent company Daimler AG, said in an exclusive interview with Bloomberg News in Las Vegas, where he unveiled the F 015 self- driving concept car. “With the new products that we launched and bring to the markets this year, we expect to significantly exceed general car market growth.”

The world’s third-biggest maker of the luxury vehicles will present the GLE coupe, which will vie with BMW’s X6 for sporty SUV buyers, at the Detroit auto show next week. The car is part of Mercedes’s strategy to surpass BMW and Audi to retake the top spot in the upscale car segment by the end of the decade.

To regain the luxury car crown that it lost to BMW in 2005, Mercedes has been adding affordable cars like the new wagon-like CLA Shooting Brake, even as it revives the ultra-luxury Maybach nameplate, which will offer more lavish versions of Mercedes cars. With the F 015 prototype, which allows passengers to face each other rather than the road while the car drives itself, Mercedes is seeking a technological edge on its two main rivals.

Even with Mercedes expecting to post a new sales record this year and pushing for further growth in 2015, the carmaker has a lot of catching up to do. Audi outsold Mercedes by 104,300 cars after 11 months of 2014. The gap between the luxury segment’s No. 2 and top-ranked BMW was narrower at 42,600 vehicles. Final sales figures for last year are due to be released by all three brands on Jan. 9.

Part of the reason Mercedes has lagged behind competitors is it’s been slow to react to trends. The GLE coupe comes seven years after BMW pioneered the segment with the X6. BMW has since added the smaller X4, which also combines the high ride of an SUV with the sloping back end of a sports car.

Zetsche is now trying to fill in those gaps with a series of new models. The new GT sports car will target Porsche buyers with more power and faster acceleration than the 911. The top- of-the-line Mercedes performance model will replace the 225,505- euro SLS and cost about half as much.

To make room for more vehicles and make its growing lineup easier for customers to understand, Mercedes will this year start renaming its SUVs, roadsters and coupes. For instance, the compact GLK will become the GLC to align it with the C-Class sedan. Names of four-door coupes will start with CL, and roadsters will begin with SL.

As he pursues his catch-up strategy, Zetsche anticipates a mixed bag in car markets across the globe this year. European demand is recovering, and carmakers and other exporters that produce in euros will benefit in the short term from that currency’s decline against the dollar, he said.

Meanwhile, “positive signals” from Asia and “promising” trends in North America may be offset by less favorable conditions in Latin America and Russia, he said. Overall, Zetsche sees the global economy expanding by about 3 percent, underpinning higher worldwide car demand.