LINDSAY CHAPPELL

The big star drops into the mass market

Lindsay Chappell is the Mid-South bureau chief for Automotive News.Lindsay Chappell is the Mid-South bureau chief for Automotive News.
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One thing that stands out on the new Mercedes-Benz CLA four-door coupe, which goes on sale in September, is that big Mercedes star on its grille.

You can see it from down the block.

That's going to count for something when Mercedes attempts what it says it will attempt in September -- taking the vaunted luxury brand down into the upper mass market to fight with the likes of Chevrolet and Toyota.

In fact, it's going to count for a lot.

Bart Herring, Mercedes-Benz USA's product planning manager, visited Automotive News recently and talked about the car, which is already being advertised with a sticker price of $29,900.

Herring noted that the CLA will feature seven airbags -- good. Power seats -- yes.

Collision-prevention assist and the Electronic Stability Program technology that smooths out vehicle cornering. All very cool. Consumers want those features.

But they also wouldn't mind owning a car with a big noticeable Mercedes star on the front end.

Product planners think in terms of segments. The industry runs smoothly on the knowledge that consumers buy a sporty crossover because they're shopping in the sporty crossover segment. They walk right past a convertible coupe to look at the sedan they're shopping for.

But at $29,900, that Mercedes star could well be a behavior changer.

The heated steering wheel in the 2014 Chevy Impala will be very well received. The back seat in the new Toyota Avalon feels pretty luxurious.

But they don't have a Mercedes star on their grilles.

Competitors are perfectly within their rights to hurl dismissive insults at any and all of Mercedes' products and gleefully point out every glitch and recall the brand suffers. But after 100 years of cultural mystique, there remains that mesmerizing marketplace allure for a consumer to be able to utter the words, "I own a Mercedes."

You can reach Lindsay Chappell at lchappell@crain.com.

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