Mercedes-Benz AG will aim for a new generation of buyers with the B-class hatchback - the luxury brand's biggest departure among a wave of new products coming during the next two years.
The B class, which is scheduled to go on sale in November, will be shown at the Detroit auto show next week. It represents Mercedes' attempt to gain a share of the premium subcompact segment. Several other prestige brands also are in the segment or plan to enter it soon.
But rather than approach the small segment with a vehicle similar to BMW's Mini, Mercedes decided to focus on space and fuel economy.
The B class is a tall, five-door, front-drive hatchback. Because of the sport wagon's versatility, Mercedes will reach not only the youth market but empty-nesters and women, says Paul Halata, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA LLC.
"We are very excited about the younger generation and also about baby boomers who will have it as the second or the third car. They might have a nice S class and say 'I don't want to take that car out. I'll use the B class.' "
Halata says Mercedes-Benz looked at its demographics and decided it needed a car for generations that "may not necessarily be ready for us and the S class and E class."
He adds: "Our brand is still on the pedestal for those generations because they haven't really grown up with just Mercedes-Benz in their blood. They are people in their 20s, and they have grown up with all of the other brands."
Current competitors are the Acura RSX, Saab 9-2X and Volvo S40.
The B class is expected to be priced below the C class. It will start at about $25,000.
With the price of gasoline rising, the B class also could appeal to fuel-economy-conscious buyers. The sales success of the 1.8-liter C230 Kompressor Sport Sedan and Sport Coupe illustrate this point, Halata says.
He says: "If I thought five years ago we were going to sell a 1.8 liter in the United States, you would send me to a shrink."
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