MARSEILLES, France - Affluent young drivers in their late twenties and thirties as well as more mature buyers are the target market in Europe for the new Mercedes-Benz M-class. The vehicle, which was launched in Europe in March, is produced in Alabama, USA.
'The marketing emphasis for the M-class in the USA and Europe will be different,' says Carsten Bauer, M-class product manager. 'In the USA the competition is clear cut. We are challenging the Ford Explorer and the Grand Jeep Cherokee in particular.
'In the USA, it has more to do with lifestyle and with what a successful, modern family wants to be seen driving.'
In Europe, he said, the market is less clear. 'There is a purpose behind their decision' to buy, said Bauer. 'For example, they use such vehicles to go to their cottages in the mountains or to tow a boat or a horse box, or to go hunting.'
He said US families buy the M-class as a second vehicle, and more women than men are principal drivers. In Europe, they buy based on need, and the number of female drivers is dramatically lower.
Between 1994 and 1997, sport-utility sales grew 55 percent in the USA and 20 percent in Europe.
Mercedes considers the USA to be its primary target market for the vehicle. The USA will consume 40,000 of the 65,000 units to be produced in 1998. Mercedes dramatically underestimated demand there, and buyers must wait over seven months.
In Europe, Mercedes executives say there may be problems with supply, but competitive pricing will be central to M-class marketing.
Bauer says the M-class will not take sales away from the Mercedes G-Wagon off-roader.
'It is a work tool,' he says. 'The M-class is a leisure vehicle with Mercedes passenger car levels of safety and equipment.'
The M-class carries an ML badge on the back. Executives say other models will probably follow, but they offer no details. The plant is not flexible enough to build a convertible or a model with a different wheelbase, said Bauer.
For now, the M-class is available with a choice of two interior trims and various equipment options.
'We will widen the range in due course and we have lots of really exciting engines coming as well as a few other surprises.'