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Benz’s compact SUV dead for Oz

All over: The Mercedes-Benz GLK would have been perfect for Australia, but not without right-hand drive.

Mercedes confirms current GLK will not be imported after all

21 Oct 2009

MERCEDES-BENZ has confirmed that its BMW X3, Audi Q5, Land Rover Freelander II and Lexus RX competitor is dead for Australia.

Speaking to GoAuto Media at the launch of the S-class facelift in Melbourne, local Mercedes Car Group managing director Horst von Sanden said the battle to bring the current-generation GLK to Australia has been lost.

Parent Daimler’s decision not to engineer right-hand drive (RHD) four-wheel drive (4WD) versions is the reason why the current GLK project has been killed for Australia.

Mr von Sanden’s team had held on to the hope that a rear-wheel drive (RWD) GLK could be offered sometime during the current model’s facelift year in 2012, But it appears that the numbers did not stack up in favour of the RWD GLK, particularly against the all-wheel drive opposition.

Mercedes is due to commence RHD production of the RWD GLK in the beginning of next year.

4 center imageEarlier in 2009, Mercedes-Benz Australia learned that the business case for spending the millions of euros required to re-engineer the current-generation GLK’s 4MATIC 4WD system for RHD was not viable, particularly in the midst of the global economic downturn.

As we reported back in July, this decision was made despite calls for the GLK in other RHD markets such as Britain, South Africa and New Zealand.

Part of the problem revolves around the expensive and extensive relocation of the GLK 4WD’s transfer case. The inability to do it cost-effectively has also kept the 4MATIC versions of the C-class and E-class models out of Australia for a number of years.

“Let’s be realistic. If it was (coming to Australia) you would have heard about it by now,” Mr von Sanden revealed.

“Dieter Zetsche, I think, apologised for the wrong decision not to bring it (to Australia) and he promised that this would not happen again.

“So for the time being this decision is what it is, and we have to live with it.

“I am certainly disappointed that we as a company did not make the commitment to bring that car to market with right-hand drive, even though I have to be realistic that we are only about 1.2 or 1.3 per cent of the world market. It is difficult to bring in each and every model.

“But given that this compact SUV market is growing dramatically at the moment, I would certainly prefer to have this car here. I am sure we could sell quite a healthy number of them (in Australia).” Based on the W204 C-class platform, the current, X204-series GLK is made in Bremen. It was rolled out in Europe and North America in 2008.

One Mercedes insider told GoAuto Media that the loss of a luxury compact SUV contender will be felt deeply, but that there is nothing that the Australian arm can do about it, and so looking ahead is the only thing left for the company to do.

So Mercedes-Benz will instead concentrate on improving the supply of its other, larger luxury SUV – the M-class – as well as work on the Australian version of the iconic, 30 year-old G-wagen range at the end of 2010.

And further down the track, the GLK’s replacement – the one which will be engineered for RHD in both AWD and RWD guises – is expected to be launched in Australia in about 2015.

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

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