NEW YORK -- Mercedes-Benz hopes to attract buyers to its second-generation M-class SUV by taking it on a 37-city road tour.
Mercedes is pitching tents and joining with retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Pottery Barn, who will pitch products to upscale Mercedes shoppers.
The event, called the M-Class Road Rally, will bring the M class to about 57,000 potential buyers, says Carol Goll, general manager of what Mercedes calls "brand experience marketing."
The tour started in San Francisco on April 22 and ends Aug. 7 in Norwalk, Conn.
The 2006 M class went on sale April 4. The SUV has unibody construction for better handling as well as a new exterior and interior.
The vehicle has a sticker price of $40,470 for the V-6 ML350 and $49,220 for the V-8 ML500. Both prices include shipping.
Mercedes is eager to create a buzz for the M class.
Competition has increased since the first-generation version went on sale in 1997.
Sales peaked at 52,764 units in 2000 but fell as the vehicle aged and competitors entered the market. Last year Mercedes sold 25,681 units.
Mercedes is inviting current Mercedes owners and other high-income potential buyers, Goll says.
The automaker expects about 5 percent of the participants to purchase the vehicle, based on research conducted after similar Mercedes events, Goll says.
Mercedes sets up test drives at the rally, and sponsors show off their wares in the event arenas.
For instance, Pottery Barn will bring furniture and create a living room environment. Makeovers will be offered by California's hip Smashbox cosmetic company, and Saks Fifth Avenue will show off new fashions.
The redesigned M class has a wedge shape with sweeping lines. The SUV is 5.9 inches longer and 2.8 inches wider than its predecessor, and its wheelbase is 3.7 inches longer.
It has a new platform that will be shared by the R-class sport wagon and full-sized G-class SUV scheduled to arrive next year.
The M class has a double-wishbone front suspension, a new four-link rear suspension and a seven-speed automatic transmission.
The interior has 2 more inches of front and rear legroom.
Safety features include side front and curtain airbags.
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