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Benz GLK gets bogged without 4WD

In limbo: The Mercedes-Benz GLK will be made only in rear-drive for right-hand-drive markets.

GLK in doubt for Oz as Mercedes stalls RHD 4WD development until 2015 replacement

27 Jul 2009

A MERCEDES-BENZ decision not to engineer right-hand-drive four-wheel-drive versions of the GLK compact SUV because of the global financial crisis threatens to derail the model entirely for Australia.

Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific is pondering whether it is worth going ahead with the rear-wheel-drive version only, but is yet to determine how the market will react to a non-4WD GLK.

Speaking to GoAuto at the launch of the new-generation E-class Sedan and CLK-usurping E-class Coupe near Melbourne last week, Mercedes-Benz car group managing director in Australia Horst von Sanden said the business case for spending the millions of Euros required to re-engineer the current-generation’s 4MATIC 4WD system for RHD had not stacked up in the current climate.

This is despite calls for such a vehicle from RHD markets such as Britain, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

GoAuto understands that re-engineering the GLK 4WD for RHD required an expensive and extensive relocation of the transfer case, among other items.

The same reason has kept Mercedes-Benz from offering 4MATIC versions of the C-class and E-class models in Australia for a number of years.

4 center image As we reported last month, Mercedes-Benz is due to start RHD production of the RWD GLK in the beginning of 2010.

An announcement on whether Australia receives these vehicles is expected soon.

“We would love to have the GLK here sooner than later,” Mr von Sanden said.

Meanwhile, Mr von Sanden is confident that Mercedes-Benz will not take the same decision when the next-generation GLK appears sometime in the middle of the next decade.

“There will definitely be RHD 4WD versions of that model from the start,” he said.

Last year, soon after the W204 C-class-based, X204-series GLK was revealed in production-car guise at the Beijing motor show in China, Mercedes-Benz indicated that it was close to a decision on the commitment of a RHD 4WD GLK.

If given the go-ahead for the existing GLK, it would have appeared with the compact SUV’s mid-life facelift slated for about 2012.

But the massive fall in revenue associated with the global financial crisis since then has hit Mercedes-Benz hard, putting the brakes on the RHD 4WD GLK project for the time being.

Mr von Sanden revealed that, in a healthier financial climate, Daimler directors in charge may given the RHD GLK 4WD the green light.

“It was one of the projects that might have been put through in better times, even though the business case may not have been 100 per cent there,” he said.

Relatively tiny sales volumes would never have made the investment viable globally, but a GLK 4WD might have made a big difference in Australia, perhaps selling in the thousands a year against rivals such as the BMW X3, Volvo XC60, Audi Q5 and Lexus RX – all of which are, for now, 4WD-only propositions.

The GLK is made in Bremen, Germany, alongside the W204 C-class and newly released C207 E-class Coupe that it shares much DNA with.

Ironically, and to the frustration of the Australian outpost, Mercedes-Benz of Japan has elected not to join in the growing chorus for a RHD 4WD GLK because many luxury car buyers over there prefer their European cars to be left-hand drive.

This means that MBAP has been unable to rely on this significant RHD market for support in its RHD GLK 4WD cause.

“Since LHD European cars are a status symbol in Japan, Mercedes in Japan says ‘OK we’ll take them as they are’,” Mr von Sanden explained.

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