ZURICH -- Mercedes-Benz believes it could sell more of the long version of its new R class in Europe than originally planned.
Up to 30 percent of R-class buyers in Europe could opt for the long-wheelbase version of the new SUV/minivan crossover, said R-class product manager Roland Folger.
"We anticipated that 10 to 15 percent of R class buyers in Europe would want the long-wheelbase model. But our R-class car clinics showed interest in that version could be twice as high," said Folger.
"We were surprised, but the car clinics may not be representative of actual demand," he said.
Mercedes will build long and short versions of the R class at its US plant in Vance, Alabama. US buyers will be offered only the longer 5157mm version, but European buyers get to choose.
The company developed the shorter, 4922mm version for the European market, where buyers often prefer smaller vehicles because of Europe's more congested roads.
One explanation for the popularity of the longer version in car clinics is that it will be priced just E1,500 more than the expected cost of E50,000 for the short-wheelbase model, say Mercedes sources.
The R class will be built alongside the new M class premium SUV and forthcoming new G class premium SUV in Vance. Mercedes has invested E500,000 to upgrade and expand its only production facility in the US.
US buyers will be offered the R class first, starting in October. The model will arrive in European showrooms in February 2006.
Mercedes did not disclose production or sales targets but sources suggest that the automaker aims to build 50,000 units a year.
Half of these will be sold in the US, 40 percent in Europe and the rest in other global markets.
The R class long version is bigger than the new S-class upper-premium sedan: 81mm longer, 183mm taller and 51mm wider.
The E50,000 base price means the four-wheel-drive R class will be priced nearly the same as an E class 4wd station wagon, which costs E51,736.
In Europe and in the US, the R class will get 5.0-liter V-8 or 3.5-liter V-6 gasoline engines or a 3.0-liter V-6 turbodiesel unit.
A hybrid version of the R class could arrive late 2008.