Thanks to Mercedes' venerable M-Class luxury SUV, and three other crossover vehicles, light-trucks accounted for 30% of Mercedes' U.S. volume by 2007. Not bad figures considering Mercedes still had nine passenger-vehicle lines, including the perennial best-seller E-Class sedan. However, thanks to a bevy of untimely economic downturns, U.S. auto sales have been taking huge hits across the board. But as the wheel turns, automakers must continue to foster and develop innovation and new products while dealing with shrinking profits and decreasing demand, lest they become antiquated dinosaurs, and go the same route.
With light truck sales in the tank (25.5% decrease for November), Mercedes is bringing its GLK compact CUV to the U.S., to bridge the gap between its current SUV lines and its passenger vehicles. According to Ward's Auto, the GLK will compete as a Middle Luxury CUV, which includes 16 other entries including the Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Volvo XC60.
To support its baby SUV, dubbed the baby-GL, Mercedes has given the GLK the proper tools to help it stand out. Mercedes has cited greater luxury market interest in all-wheel-drive systems and anticipates a take rate of 70:30 for AWD models to 2WD models. To accommodate the AWD demand, Mercedes has loaded the baby-GL with the second-generation 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, which will be mated with the efficient seven-speed transmission. Production at the GLK's Bremen plant in Germany has been skewed for increased numbers of 4Matic models.
Powering the GLK is a 3.5L V-6 with 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. With BlueTEC diesel technology already locked into a couple Mercedes models, some diesel enthusiasts are hoping the oil burners will make their way into the U.S.-spec GLK. Two turbodiesel engines already exist in European GLK models, a 3.0L V-6 and 2.2L I-4.
Of course, Mercedes is not forgetting two of the most important attributes of any new-car purchase, aside from the appeal of being behind the wheel of a German star. In fuel economy, the compact SUV achieves a respectable 16 city/22 highway with 2WD, while the 4Matic model gets 16 city/21 highway. Starting price? An aggressive $34,775 for 2WD. The 4Matic starts at $36,775. For comparison, a 2009 BMW X3 starts at $40,225, while a 2009 Volvo XC60 is expected to start around $40,000.
The only real question remaining is whether consumers want the GLK. Mercedes has acknowledged the challenge of selling any vehicle in today's economic climate, but has said it expects any brand-new car in a new segment to sell from 15,000 to 20,000 units annually. Best-case scenario, Mercedes hopes the GLK will have the same impact the M-Class SUV made when it first bowed in 1997. The M-Class immediately accounted for 12% of the brand's sales, according to Bernie Glaser, MBUSA general manager of product management.
The GLK's introduction won't be Mercedes' first attempt at creating a bridge vehicle to appeal to a wider consumer base. Mercedes' latest attempt was the introduction of the C-Class sport coupe for 2002, which offered consumers an entry-level Mercedes for under $30,000. While the C-Class coupe did not have the resounding success of the M-Class, Mercedes will be bringing its lessons learned to the table.
My questions are: Can the GLK make a big impact on the Middle Luxury CUV segment? Without BlueTEC technology, does the GLK differentiate itself enough from its competitors? Or will the GLK be selling on the Mercedes name alone?