PORTLAND, Oregon, USA -- Mercedes-Benz is targeting a different US buyer with its second-generation SLK roadster.
The entry-level version of the two-seater has more power than its predecessor as well as a higher price -- a move that has hurt rival BMW's Z4 roadster.
The 2005 model-year SLK 350 starts at $46,220 (currently about E38,300), and will only be available with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine.
Mercedes is dropping the previous generation's four-cylinder SLK 230 model that cost $40,320. The four-cylinder engine is available in Europe on the entry version of the new SLK, the 200 Kompressor, which lists for E28,900.
Mercedes isn't selling the four-cylinder version of the new SLK because it wants to go after the performance-hungry customer, says Doug Worrell, product manager for coupes and convertibles at Mercedes-Benz USA LLC.
"When you look at the overall segment and when you hear the comments of our current customers, they buy the car because of the retractable top, the luxury, safety and convenience."
"But we didn't have a lot of buyers -- that clearly are a large part of that segment -- that buy because of a car's performance. They would simply go after the [Porsche] Boxster, [BMW] Z4, or something else in the segment," says Worrell.
BMW boosted the entry price and the power on the Z4 when it replaced the Z3 in October 2002. Sales of the Z4 were down 25.4 percent to 7,359 units in the US and 2.5 percent to 14,162 units in Europe in the first half compared with last year.
To boost slumping sales, BMW has been forced to offer $4,500 in dealer incentives on the Z4. While the higher price has been an issue, experts say the Z4's biggest problem is a controversial exterior.
Mercedes-Benz hasn't dramatically changed the styling of the 2005 SLK. The second generation of the sports car has a more pronounced wedge shape and a more expensive and sportier look, borrowing front-end styling cues from the Formula One inspired E375,000 SLR McLaren supercar. The replacement SLK is about 76mm longer and wider than the previous generation.
To lure the performance buyer, the SLK uses a new-generation 268hp V-6, 3.5-liter multivalve engine that for the first time has a double overhead camshaft. The new engine has 53 more horsepower than its predecessor.
Mercedes-Benz will base its SLK marketing strategy on performance, highlighting the car's 0-60 miles-per-hour performance of 5.4 seconds. "It is certainly a different tone from what Mercedes has taken in the past," says Worrell.
Mercedes-Benz doesn't expect the new-generation SLK to dramatically outsell the old model. Worrell says annual sales of the new SLK "should reach about 12,000 a year," and level off to about 11,000 to 12,000 cars a year.