Mercedes shrinks SUV coupe to compact

Elisabeth Behrmann
Bloomberg News

Shanghai – — Mercedes-Benz, which is introducing four sport-utility vehicles this year, is looking at bringing out an all-new compact coupe version as early as 2016 as buyers continue to favor the sporty models.

Almost 7 inches shorter than the mid-sized GLE coupe that's due to start sales in 2015, the "near- production" concept car with a low sloping back end would be pitted against the curvy BMW AG X4 SUV that went on sale last year.

The prototype, dubbed the GLC coupe, gives a "foretaste of future SUV models from Mercedes-Benz," Gorden Wagener, head of design at parent company Daimler AG, said in a statement for its unveiling Sunday at the Shanghai Auto Show.

Mercedes is rolling out four new or revamped SUVs this year in its effort to overtake BMW and Volkswagen's Audi division in worldwide luxury-car sales by the end of the decade. The GLC is part of Stuttgart, Germany-based Mercedes's drive to add 11 models with no predecessor to the lineup. Daimler Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche in February declared 2015 to be "the year of the SUV" as demand jumps.

Among the top three premium-car producers, sales growth in 2014 at Mercedes outpaced gains at both first-place BMW and No. 2 Audi. During the first quarter of this year, Mercedes's deliveries jumped 16 percent, compared with 6.1 percent for Audi and 5.4 percent for Munich-based BMW. SUVs accounted for 21 percent of Mercedes's volume in the quarter, the same proportion as all of last year.

Demand for roomy yet sporty SUVs is set to expand further, according to IHS Automotive. The market research company forecasts that global sales of the models will rise 32 percent from 2014 to 24.7 million vehicles by the end of the decade.

"Among the trends we're expecting includes far more sub- compact SUVs to be launched over the next few years," Ian Fletcher, an IHS analyst in London, said in an e-mail. Premium- auto producers "will also look to gain greater visibility in the compact SUV segment.