Benz bullish about maintaining luxury throne

The brand that now dominates the luxury sector figures it has every reason for thinking it can retain No.1 through 2017.


EXPECTATION that the new vehicle sales boom will continue is one of the factors fuelling the luxury sector kingpin’s confidence about keeping its edge in 2016.

Mercedes Benz spokesman Matt Bruce says no current local market or global trends – including the outcome of the United States’ elections – are expected to curtail the bull market condition affecting New Zealand.

Nor will they keep his brand maintaining luxury sector dominance for a third successive year.

“I can’t see the market slowing down any time soon,” he said at today’s media preview of the latest addition to the Benz family, the Coupe edition of the GLC wagon.

This slinky four-seater has arrived in two 2.1-litre diesel models – the $98,900 220d and $105,900 250d - and a single $103,900 250-badged 2.0-litre petrol format, with an AMG edition, with the sporting arm’s new V6, to land in February for $123,900.

“We anticipate good growth again next year, including in the luxury segment,” said Bruce.

“I cannot comment about other brands (in that sector) but, certainly, we feel we will continue to go from strength to strength and we anticipate good growth again next year.”

That, in turn, bolsters its belief that it can hold No.1 in the sector for a third successive year.

“We’re very confident. We feel we have the product – which is key, initially – and we have more to launch. We have also really picked up some great momentum in the market.”

Another key factor for growth the brand suspects its effort to present its persona in a new, more vibrant light is paying off.

“I think there’s really been a big change in perception of the brand. Okay, you do have to have the product to back it up … but the perception in New Zealand of Mercedes being potentially, for lack of a better term, an ‘old man’s brand’ has gone.

“We are seeing younger buyers, new buyers coming in and, with that, it has become an exciting time.”

What makes Mercedes increasing dominance all the more interesting is that, while the market is booming and even though luxury car sales overall have doubled over the past five years, not all luxury sector performers are presently benefitting as well as might be expected.

A significant lift in new vehicle interest that resulted in October being the best month for passenger and commercial registrations since record-keeping began in 1984 has surprisingly not brought wholesale positives for all in the high-end sector.

Year-to-date returns suggest Audi, BMW and Lexus are experiencing lower buy-in than for the same period of last year.

By comparison, however, MBNZ has continued to race away, to the point where, with 2083 cars sold year to date, it is just 12 units short of equalling its whole-of-2015 tally – itself a record – and, has notched up a 531-unit lead advantage over the next best performer, BMW.

Bruce says this year’s margin over BMW is the equivalent of two months’ sales and agrees the potential of achieving 2500 car sales by year end cannot be ruled out.

As of the end of October, BMW has achieved 1552 registrations – against 1635 for the same period last year – while Audi is also lagging on its 2015 tally, with only slightly less of a drop – 1507 compared with 1575. By this time last year, Mercedes had sold 1731 cars.

BMW ended 2015 with 1952 sales and Audi accrued 1765, while Lexus achieved 641, Volvo 505 and Porsche 444.

The Benz counts includes the V-Class passenger van, a model that the others do not replicate, but these make minor impact. Removing these from the picture still leaves Benz well ahead.

October was huge for the industry as a whole: The national haul of 14,709 vehicles was the highest sales figure for one month on record, well above the previous high of 13,983 units set in July of 1984. The tally – which broke down to 10,795 passenger registrations and 3914 commercials – also marked the first time sales for one month have topped 14,000 units.

However, while October was good for Benz, with 253 units, it was actually Benz’s second-strongest month, behind March, when 267 cars found homes.

The industry has yet to provide an official view of how big the 2016 new car count will be, however market leader Toyota New Zealand is citing potential for some 145,000 passenger and commercial vehicles being registered this year.

It says the effect of immigration, infrastructure development and housing values has impacted positively across the industry.

Benz’s accession story is all the more remarkable because, even though it has grown progressively over the past four years, until it rose to No.1 in 2015, this brand had never threatened for sector leadership, with Audi and BMW having taken turns as top dog previously.

In 2014, Benz began a massive product onslaught that still continues.

The initial push with a new generation C-Class passenger range continues to bear fruit, with the sedan version still being the brand’s single most popular car, this despite that category having lost ground overall through the consumer shift to crossovers and sports utilities – a base Benz also has well covered.

SUVs are also delivering higher percentage gain, with the brand identifying that a 30 percent increase in sales of its soft-roaders last year has been followed by a 31 percent year to date gain in 2016.

The vehicle heading this gain is the medium GLC, so the addition of a Coupe will only enhance that standing, though interesting enough Benz is seeking to enforce that the lower-slung four-door cannot be seen as a sister model to the wagon that arrived a year ago, not so much because it has a $9000 premium but more because as it is engineered to be far sportier.

Apart from a different bodyshell, it has a special dynamic suspension system and AMG addenda (wheels, tyres, body kit) as standard.

MotoringNetwork drove the car in Victoria, Australia and will publish a drive report subsequent to the end of the brand’s reporting embargo, which ends tomorrow night at midnight.