Mercedes-Benz is seeking to become the top-selling luxury brand in the U.S. by adding a two- door compact C-Class to its lineup to attract younger buyers.
BMW is leading in the U.S. luxury market this year, followed by Mercedes. Both are poised to dethrone Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus, which has been the top luxury brand in the U.S. for 11 years, after the Japanese earthquake in March.
The C-Class coupe, which arrived at dealerships this month, may boost sales by as much as 20 percent going forward, Ernst Lieb, head of U.S. operations for Mercedes, said last week. They are starting now hoping it may help win orders before BMW, which sells its 3- Series in the U.S. as a sedan, coupe, convertible and wagon, introduces an all-new compact line to the market in April.
The sporty two-door model with standard race-inspired sport seats and a panoramic sunroof comes as the C-Class sedan gets a refreshed interior before a full redesign in 2014. The 2012 four-door starts at $34,800 excluding destination charges, according to Mercedes, up $800 from the previous model, while the coupe has a base price of $37,220.
The C-Class is “critical for the luxury race because it creates the most amount of volume for Benz,” said Jesse Toprak, an industry analyst with TrueCar.com, a website that tracks automotive sales. “It also opens the Benz brand to potential future buyers by catching them while they’re young with the hopes that they upgrade as they get more affluent and older.”
The median age of BMW’s customers is 53 while Mercedes is at 57, according to J.D. Power & Associates studies.
BMW “certainly has a younger perception as does Audi and those are the two big companies that Mercedes has lost out to in the last decade,” said Rebecca Lindland, an industry analyst with IHS Automotive based in Norwalk, Connecticut. “It’s thought of as a more staid, older, established brand. There isn’t anything hip and young about it.”
The sporty coupe should appeal to customers in their mid- 30s to early 40s, said Steve Cannon, Mercedes vice president of U.S. marketing.
“Lively entry points to the brand are really important,” he said. “The more people you can bring in at bottom end, the likelihood of keeping them in the family, because of our brand, is great.”