ST. HELENA, Calif. -- After making only minor modifications to the vehicle's exterior but 2,000 parts changes, Mercedes-Benz is banking on the freshened 2007 E class to increase sales.
Mercedes also is launching an E series sport version, repeating a successful strategy it used with the compact C class.
Mid-cycle changes include major engine, performance and safety upgrades.
Mercedes is raising the price on the entry model E350 by $500, to $51,275, including shipping, despite the addition of what it says are $2,750 in features. Those include the Pre-Safe system, which anticipates crashes by rolling up windows, tightening belts and adjusting seat backs.
A diesel E320 BlueTec will cost $52,325, including shipping, when it goes on sale in mid-October, when low sulfur fuel is available.
Mercedes-Benz has launched the E class sport model at no extra charge. It has a chrome grille with black inserts; 18-inch, 10-spoke wheels; a lowered sport suspension; and cross-drilled front disc brakes.
Mercedes-Benz wants to lure buyers who prefer sportier cars -- a strategy that worked in the C class when a sport model was introduced in January 2003, says Bernard Glaser, general manager of product management for Mercedes-Benz USA LLC in Montvale, N.J. He spoke at a press event here.
Glaser says Mercedes-Benz is making the shift to sportier models because of the invasion of Asian makes and Cadillac into what was traditionally the Europeans' turf. The newcomers include the Lexus GS, Infiniti M, Acura RL and Cadillac STS, he says: "None of them were serious competitors before. It has made life difficult for us."
Mercedes-Benz wants to attract conquest buyers from those brands and give C class sport version owners a step up, Glaser says: "Internally, C sport people can move up. Right now they have nowhere to go."
Glaser says Mercedes-Benz is confident the new E sport model will make significant sales gains because of what's happened with the C class.
He wouldn't make specific sales predictions. But he says the previous model had peak U.S. sales of about 55,000 units in 2004.
"If you look at the C-class life cycle, we have grown year after year," he says. "Typically, sales decline. We learned you can conquest new customers."
You may e-mail Diana T. Kurylko at [email protected]