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Future models - Mercedes-Benz - R-class

Benz GST to tax rivals

Grand vision: Graphic artist Norm Robinson's impression of the Grand Sports Tourer.

Mercedes is confident of success with the Grand Sports Tourer despite stiff competition

5 Dec 2001

MERCEDES-BENZ is confident its revolutionary new four-wheel drive Grand Sports Tourer, which will appear in concept form at the 2002 Detroit motor show in January, will be a success in Australia.

This is despite a declining large all-terrain wagon segment and a plethora of new European SUV rivals.

A new Range Rover is being readied for its July launch, the Porsche Cayenne is now just 12 months away, Volvo has announced the production of a luxury four-wheel drive called the XC90 by 2003 and Saab will also show its 9-3X soft-roader concept at Detroit.

But Australian DaimlerChrysler officials remain positive about the local future of the unfortunately named GST, which will not be revealed in production form until at least 2004.

"The GST will be a good looking vehicle that looks like a four-wheel drive, not a people mover," Mercedes-Benz Australia passenger car product manager Andrew Harlock said.

"But to get more people into the market you have to have the looks, the flexibility to go off road and the ability to carry people. And GST will offer all of this." Like Porsche, Mercedes-Benz says people will be attracted to the cachet of the brand name, and that strong sales of Mercedes products and off-road vehicles in Australia are positive for GST.

Mr Harlock also said the Stuttgart company's off-road credentials would give GST the edge over Cayenne, which would also rely on second car buyers to increase sales.

"One thing that will be in our favour will be the M-class track record which is a very positive thing," he said.

"I think the perception of the Australian public to go from the concept of a Porsche to a four-wheel drive Porsche will be much more difficult. It's a big difference.

"At the same time, people do follow brands and some may have a Porsche and think I can have a four-wheel drive Porsche too." BMW has confirmed the large X7 off-roader is on hold until the 3 Series-based X3 enters the burgeoning compact all-terrain vehicle segment around 2003.

Mr Harlock said BMW's decision to target the fast growing compact off-road segment - rather than the slowing large off-roader market - was understandable, but no cause for concern.

"There are only so many players that can be in that top end, I suppose. They (BMW) may have looked at it and of course we are very price competitive already with M-class - this year again we'll sell over 2500 units which is very strong," he said.

"Now when we start to get the new Porsche and the new Range Rover, that top end is very limited because over 50 per cent of our sales are at the ML320 level and we probably envisage 27 per cent diesel next year (which will be freed up quite a bit), so the rest is left to ML500 and to an even lesser extent ML55.

"So while volumes are low there's also quite a lot of competition at that end of the market and you have to ask is it justifiable to be in it if the figures don't work. So sometimes it may be best to stick to the other end, which is what I think BMW is doing with X3." Mr Harlock ruled out any chance of a compact Mercedes-Benz soft-roader released ahead of the large GST to meet demand in the rapidly expanding medium all-terrain wagon segment.

"If we could put our hand up in Australia I'd agree that a compact off-roader is what we weed most, but in the world scheme of things - with 50,000 units sold in the American market this year alone - it's easy to see where is the next addition to that 50,000 is - it's the bigger four-wheel drive, not the smaller. But there's certainly going to be a market here for us as well." As our computer generated image shows, GST is likely to feature distinctive Mercedes-Benz passenger car styling on a large, all-terrain wagon bodyshell, as large as LandCruiser.

It is believed GST will be based on an all-new monocoque chassis design and accommodate up to seven passengers.

Mercedes packs power into new models

MERCEDES-BENZ performance fans have every reason to rejoice with the prospect of at least two powerful new AMG engines appearing in exclusive new models over the next two years.

First will be a wild, supercharged version of AMG's current 5.5-litre V8, producing 355kW and a phenomenal 700Nm of torque from just 2650rpm. The blown 5.5-litre V8 will first appear in the new SL55 AMG, a handful of which will be released two to three months after the new SL500 makes its appearance next June.

The new SL500 is not expected to vary substantially in price from the current vehicle's $282,000, while the SL55 AMG's sticker price will be $100,000 upstream.

Mercedes-Benz Australia passenger car product manager Andrew Harlock said it was likely the new supercharged AMG V8 would eventually power other Mercedes products, with likely candidates including the new CLK coupe due in July, the new E-class due around September and an updated S-class around December, 2002.

Meanwhile, the new Maybach limousine, which will compete with a new BMW-built Rolls Royce and the Mid Size Bentley from 2003, will feature another interesting and muscular new engine, with Mercedes-Benz having applied twin-turbo technology to a version of its current 5.5-litre V12.

Specifications of the new engine are scarce, but it's believed it will be tuned for low-rpm driveability. Mercedes is evaluating its new Maybach dealer network and says volatile exchange rates could see the price of the long-wheelbase flagship Maybach top $1 million.

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