Last year was the best one ever – and 2016 looks like being brilliant for Mercedes Benz, too.
WHEREAS some other premium end players are predicting this year will bring a bit of a slump in sales of high-end cars, newly-established sector leader Mercedes Benz is feeling far more bullish.
However, the brand that achieved sales dominance over perpetual German rivals BMW and Audi plus Japan’s sole luxury contender, Lexus, is not being so bold as to predict it will maintain sector ascendance for a second successive year.
Ben Giffin (pictured), general manager of Mercedes Benz’ car sales in New Zealand, says last year – when some 2095 Benz passenger cars were sold, against 1952 for BMW, the top player for the preceding three years, and 1765 for Audi – was a double whammy success.
Not only did Benz achieve No.1 for the first time since the industry representative organization, the Motor Industry Association, begin record-keeping but it was also the strongest year in the brand’s time in this country.
"We've seen outstanding growth across a number of key segments, with significant momentum from the award winning C-Class,” he told Motoring Network.
The year’s result was all the more impressive given that, for the main part, ascendancy from third in 2014 was achieved without major sports utility sales.
Whereas BMW and Audi relied on strong performances from their respective big-hitters – the X5 (which ended the year as the top-selling prestige SUV) and X3, and the Q5 and Q7 – Mercedes did not see significant impact from its key soft-roaders, GLC and GLE (formerly the M-Class), because both arrived late in the year. Instead, the C-Class sedan proved resilient to market trends showing abdication from traditional cars by being the brand’s biggest seller.
However, Giffin seems in no doubt the SUVs will contribute far more significantly this year. In fact, he says, they already made impact in the limited time – barely two months – they were in the market during 2015. SUV and crossovers are the goldmine category; last year they accounted for 45,376 registrations, at 34 percent the largest slice of passenger sales.
He is especially optimistic about GLC, a C-Class-spun wagon released in November.
“We feel that this is the best mid-sized luxury SUV in the market and perfectly complements our existing portfolio.”
Mercedes’ most significant new entry this year will be the new-generation E-Class, coming in the third quarter, initially as a sedan.
The model’s importance is less than it enters the large sedan category – a dying class, dominated by the Holden Commodore with close to an 80 percent share – than that it takes over, for now, as Benz’s technology leader.
The E-Class is equipped with an extensive driver-assistance kit that heralds one of the final steps toward full autonomy in passenger cars. New Zealand and Australia will share a common specification, which raises an interesting situation: Some features are so advanced that they will require special sign-off from Australia’s legislators to be allowed.
One features requiring special examination is Drive Pilot, which takes adaptive cruise control to the next level and can make lane changes even when there are no lane markings.
The car also has Active Brake Assist, which can apply the brakes if the driver fails to when approaching a hazard such as sudden congestion or pedestrian hazards and also includes a cross traffic function for detecting potential hazards at junctions and intersections.
There’s also a Pre-Safe technology can actually move an occupant away from an impending side collision with an air chamber in the side of the seat, and Evasive Steering Assist. this helps the driver avoid a collision by working with an evasive steering input to both avoid the object and maintain control of the vehicle.
One other implementation enjoyed in Europe - a new Remote Parking Pilot smartphone application that allows owners to park their E-Class in tight spaces when outside the car –s less likely to be accepted in Australia, and thus is unlikely to come to NZ.
The E-Class also features Mercedes' evolution of Car-to-X information sharing that allows the car to receive information that the driver can not, such as warnings regarding weather and traffic hazards.
Giffin says the E-Class will be “one of the most exciting products to be launched in New Zealand this year … it will introduce pioneering safety and technology that is perfectly incorporated with the ultimate in luxury.”
While reluctant to express thought that Benz will hold top dog status at the end of 2016, Giffin does suggest it will be a great year.
“With the most exciting and expansive luxury automotive portfolio in New Zealand, we expect to see our growth continue in 2016."