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Stock shortages put Benz behind eight-ball

Countdown: Mercedes-Benz will boost its local armoury in April with the release of its all-new B-class small car.

Dwindling stocks of mass-sellers mean Mercedes will struggle to match BMW in 2012

20 Jan 2012

THE annual battle for luxury-car market bragging rights might be over before it starts in 2012, with Mercedes-Benz flagging a sluggish start to the year due to stock shortages of two of its most popular ranges in a lull before a storm of fresh metal.

While BMW is armed and dangerous with new models such as the 1 Series hatchback and (from March) an all-new version of the top-selling 3 Series, Mercedes is basically out of stock of its B-class – Australia’s top-selling luxury small car in 2011 – and M-class SUV as it awaits arrival of the new models for both in April.

This will leave Mercedes-Benz Australia playing catch-up for the remainder of the year – a task that even senior manager corporate communications David McCarthy thinks will be a tough job.

He estimates the B-class and M-class run-out will cost Mercedes about 1000 units.

“That’s going to be hard to make up,” he told GoAuto. “The new model running rates will be a bit higher, but they would have to be 100 units higher per month to make up the difference.”

 center imageLeft: David McCarthy. Below: Mercedes-Benz M-class, BMW 3 Series and BMW 1 Series.

Last year, BMW resumed market leadership over Mercedes-Benz by selling 734 more cars and SUVs – 17,508 to 16,870 when light commercial vehicles are excluded (BMW sells no utes or vans).

Audi came in third, on 14,511.

BMW’s win was almost entirely due to the uptick in sales of its smaller SUVs, the mid-sized X3 and compact X1, which are recently fresh and for which Mercedes has no answer, at least not until the arrival of its promised GLC compact SUV about early 2014.

Mercedes’ number-one seller, the C-class, trounced the ageing 3 Series by more than 2000 units in 2011, but the battle is expected to be a lot closer this year with the Munich manufacturer’s new mainstay arriving within a few weeks and priced to compete.

Asked how Mercedes-Benz would react to the arrival of the new 3 Series, Mr McCarthy said: “By doing what we are doing.”

The rivalry between the larger Mercedes E-class and its BMW equivalent, the 5 Series, resulted in a near dead-heat in 2011, with the E-class winning by just two units – 1386 to 1384.

Sales of the 5 Series were up 12.5 per cent for the 12 months to December 31, while the E-class sedan and wagon range took a 37.7 per cent hit.

Some of those Benz sales might have leaked to Audi’s new A6, sales of which grew 37.1 per cent, to 710 units.

The B-class and M-class will be Mercedes’ big volume-selling models to debut this year, but it is also looking forward to contributions from the new SL at the end of the second quarter and, perhaps, the CLS Shooting Brake wagon late in the year.

The three-pointed-star brand will then get a major boost in volume in early 2013 with the arrival of the all-new A-class, returning from exile to Australian showrooms.

The model was dropped in early 2010 as Benz concentrated on the B-class for Australia, but the new, more mainstream third generation that is expected to be revealed at this year’s Geneva motor show in March will signal the resumption of the baby Benz in Australia once right-hand-drive production starts in about a year.

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