NEW YORK - An 18-month Internet campaign in the US has given Mercedes-Benz a list of 98,000 people interested in its new R-class five months before the vehicle's debut.
The Internet campaign is part of a larger worldwide DaimlerChrysler effort to lure potential buyers into a segment that is new for the German luxury brand.
"The world doesn't need the R class, so Mercedes must show the perceptual benefit over the S class," says Steve Saxty, a partner in New York consulting firm PowerBrand Associates.
Mercedes must lure buyers out of the vehicle range occupied by the S class and BMW 7 series, Saxty says.
The R class, which is based on M-class architecture, will be one of the few luxury SUV crossovers on the market with a wagon-like profile - Mercedes calls it a "sport tourer." That means Mercedes is selling a new concept as well as a new vehicle.
Mercedes has been communicating with online prospects since January 1, 2004. The R class website has had nearly 2.1 million visitors. Of those, 98,000 signed up for more information and provided an e-mail address, says Carol Goll, Mercedes-Benz USA's general manager of brand experience marketing.
Mercedes expects 60 percent of its R-class sales to come from the US, Thomas Weber, DaimlerChrysler's research and technology head, said at the vehicle's launch at the New York auto show in March.
Mercedes wouldn't give exact targets but says annual US sales won't exceed 25,000 to 30,000 units.
The R class goes on sale in the US in October and in Europe in early 2006. Prices in the US will start below $50,000. European prices have not been announced.
Production started this month at Mercedes' US factory in Vance, Alabama, where volume can be shifted between the M- and R-class vehicles.
The R class will be pitched to so-called "late-forming families" of parents who had children late in life and are in their late 30s and early 40s, Goll says.
Buyers also are likely to include "affluent social adults" and "innovators and adopters - those people who want something that is new and different and unusual."