No blue-light specials for Mercedes, Halata says

Mercedes has scaled back its sales volume targets since Sept. 11. Paul Halata, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA Inc., said the company is responding to slower demand with a marketing campaign tied to the 100th anniversary of the Mercedes brand. But Halata, 51, insisted the company will stick to its long-term strategy of no deep discounts or 0 percent interest incentives.

Staff Reporter Jim Henry interviewed Halata Oct. 30 at a press introduction for the 2002 Mercedes lineup in Durham, N.C.

Why are Mercedes sales flat to down when other competitors, such as BMW and Lexus, are up sharply?

We have two products - for instance, the M class, which is running (changing models) in its cycle and a car, (the S L) - that were in a run-out mode. And the E class is in its eighth year.

Will you set another sales record this year (compared with a U.S. record 205,614 in 2000)?

The number we are going for is to bypass 205,000. We were going to go way past that, but we have reassessed our plans because of the criminal acts that happened to our country. And there were already other problems with the economy. What it (Sept. 11) has done is, the recession balloon has taken off. We have to try to figure out where and when is it going to land. We've got to watch what the market is going to be and what the economy is going to be.

Does that mean you're ordering fewer cars for next year?

This year we will look to realign our production - not a radical change.

How about next year. Will sales be higher than 2001?

We will have the SL next year and the E class in the fall of next year (both all new). And we finally have the facelifted M class (for the 2002 model year).

X5 (the BMW sport wagon) sales are up year to date while the M class is down. Is that the biggest factor?

Listen, we started this product offensive in the mid-1990s. Since 1997 (when the M class was introduced) we ran away from everybody, and now they are catching up to us. They (BMW) are in a segment (light trucks) we were in long before.

Are dealer orders back to normal?

Yes. In September we had a couple of weeks that were weak. It's understandable.

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