DAIMLER-BENZ has raised its production target for the Mercedes-Benz CLK convertible even before the car goes on sale.
Helmut Wawra, head of C-class development, said 'huge customer interest' led Daimler to increase its planned 1999 output from 18,000 to 23,000.
The CLK convertible goes on sale across Europe in late June. Sales in the USA and Japan will start in autumn.
Daimler plans to sell about 8,000 cars a year in Germany and about 9,000 in the USA. The other 6,000 will be sold mainly in other European countries.
In Germany alone more than 6,000 orders were taken from March through early May.
The CLK convertible is assembled at Wilhelm Karmann GmbH in Osnabrueck, Germany, where the Mercedes SLK is built. Karmann makes convertible-specific components and receives other parts from Daimler plants in Bremen and Stuttgart.
'It is more economical to outsource the manufacturing of a product with relatively low volume,' said Wawra.
The CLK convertible replaces the E-class convertible, of which 34,000 were built during 1992-97. It is based on the CLK coupe that has been in production since June 1997. Mercedes has sold about 40,000 coupes worldwide.
The convertible is offered with three engines: a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder unit in 136hp and 192hp versions; a 2.3-liter, four-cylinder that delivers 193hp; and a 3.2-liter, six-cylinder that makes 218hp.
Daimler wants to attract new and younger customers with the four-seat convertible.
'We've conquested 60 percent new customers with the CLK coupe and we expect 50-60 percent for the convertible,' said Josef Krumpen, CLK brand manager.
The chief competitor is the BMW 3 series convertible. The main target group is the traditional Mercedes customer aged 40-60. But Krumpen said the CLK convertible has potential to attract younger buyers.
Juergen Hubbert, Daimler-Benz board member in charge of passenger cars, said niche models are important to Daimler's product strategy.
'With only a little extra investment we can achieve a good yield,' he said. 'Niches are like icing on the cake.'