NICE, France - Mercedes-Benz is aiming at the lower end of the near-luxury market with coupe and wagon versions of its hot-selling C class, the smallest, least expensive Mercedes models sold in the United States.
The C230 sports coupe - which is a cleverly styled hatchback - goes on sale in July with a base price of about $28,000; the C320 wagon follows in September with prices expected to start at around $31,000.
Burkhard Osthaus, general manager of Mercedes' passenger cars and light trucks, said the cars are expected to attract a different group of buyers to Mercedes-Benz - young, active drivers who might otherwise opt for an Acura or a Lexus. They'll earn an average of $75,000 per year and enjoy driving. Many will be single. About half are expected to be female.
Since 1995, Mercedes has rolled out smaller, sportier cars and has entered new markets in an effort to dump its stodgy image and woo younger buyers. Vehicles such as the SLK230, M class and the current E class have helped chop the average age of a Mercedes customer from 53 to 48.
'We feel the C class (wagon) can bring down the age even further,' said Juergen Hubbert, head of Mercedes-Benz's passenger cars.
Mercedes seeks annual U.S. sales of 7,500 C320 wagons, which will be powered by Mercedes' 3.2-liter, 215-hp V-6 and a five-speed automatic transmission.
In its versatile interior, the rear seats can be folded down without removing the headrests, and large storage compartments are in the flat floor.
Mercedes officials seem undaunted by the fact that Americans usually shun hatchbacks. The company plans to sell 15,000 C230 sports coupes per year once production ramps up.
The drivetrain for the U.S. version of the C230 will be identical to that of the SLK230 sports car: a supercharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 190 hp and 200 pounds-feet of torque, bolted to either a six-speed manual transmission or an optional five-speed automatic.