BANGKOK – Mercedes-Benz Thailand is continuing full speed ahead with an aggressive strategy to push into new market segments, as it broadens its focus from a long-time reliance on traditional luxury-vehicle buyers and core models such as the C- and E-Class.

Unquestionably the most significant move is its foray into the compact-car sector that began with the launch of the new A-Class at the end of last year and now is expanding with the debut of its 3-box sister, the CLA-Class.

Buoyed by early success of the A-Class, MBT executives believe the CLA 4-door sedan also can be a hit here.

The car marks “a significant step…that signifies differentiation in our design,” says MBT President and CEO Alexander Paufler, yet “remains true to Mercedes’ core values by setting new standards in aerodynamics, efficiency and dynamic driving experience.

“We aim to reach new target groups, especially young customers, including those who never intended driving a Mercedes,” he adds.

New models will be the trump cards in MBT’s strategy to reach out to a new category of customer, says Martin Schulz, vice president-sales and marketing.

“We have just launched the A-Class in December last year and now the CLA,” he says. “With these products we understand just one thing – the emphasis is much more on design, on emotive values, things that touch your senses.

“We have products that are very organic, very floating, very aggressive that also stand out on the road.”

To introduce the new line of cars to buyers here, Mercedes hosted 600 potential customers at the Bonanza race track in Khao Yai National Park over a 10-day period to demonstrate the agility of the A-Class.

“Together you have a package, where on the one hand you provide sheer fun driving, while on the other, you have an outstanding design – not following the mass you see on Bangkok roads, but a car which has personality and lifestyle,” Schulz says.

The A- and CLA-Class are different propositions from the rest of the Mercedes range, so the auto maker is using new approaches to reach targeted customers who are expected to be first-time buyers of the brand.

“It affects our marketing, not only the positioning, but the communication channels that we use,” Schulz says.

That includes social media, where MBT has been on a push to increase its Facebook fan base from about 10,000 followers last year to 130,000 today and has been “very active” on other Internet sites such as Instagram and YouTube, the marketing executive says.

 “New channels below-the-line have become much more important to us lately,” Schulz says. “It’s not enough to have advertising and show a pretty car in a magazine or newspaper. We want to engage people, so we want to create direct customer contacts and show and share the lifestyle that we associate with these new products.

“The bottom line is, whether this is digital or reality in terms of parties or other events, we want to engage people,” he adds.

The launch venue for the CLA-Class is a case in point. It takes place in a series of specially constructed “star domes” on the deck of CentralWorld, the biggest mall in Thailand, situated in the heart of Bangkok’s upscale shopping district.

Following the media launch, the CLA-Class will be seen by tens of thousands of shoppers who pass this point each day.

However, while MBT is reaching out to a new set of customers, Schulz sees no conflict with Mercedes’ more-established brand positioning. As the long-term luxury-vehicle leader in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations region, the auto maker can’t afford to alienate its loyal and lucrative buyer base.

“I think it’s complementing it,” he says of the extension of the brand into the entry-level luxury sector. “We are opening our brand to new customer segments, to people that might not have chosen Mercedes at all. Here we emphasize a lot on the new perceptions of our new products, while we still emphasize and are very strong in our traditional segments.

“(The new A-Class and CLA-Class) are very passionate products, very emotional, and it adds in customer segments which we have not been relevant to in the past, maybe.”

Still, MBT is wary of diluting the Mercedes brand in its push away from its core segments, and for the early launch period at least the CLA will be brought here only in its top-level trim.

“We intend to offer the CLA 250 AMG as a high version and later maybe we expand the family, but we don't know yet,” Schulz says.

The CLA 250 AMG Sport version offers special body trim, a twin-pipe exhaust system with rectangular tailpipes, perforated front brake discs and Mercedes-lettered front calipers, as well as 18-in. alloy wheels. The sedan also gets a specially-tuned suspension and sports-focused interior.

That builds on the direction set with the new A-Class, which has been available for order here nearly six months and is offered in two trim levels. The upper of these, the AMG “sport pack” option, has accounted for a significant portion of sales.

“(It) shows that in the compact-car segment, people also demand more,” Schulz says. “People don’t look for the most versatile, practical car, they want something with emotions.”

The CLA 250 AMG features a 211-hp 2.0L 4-cyl. engine delivering 258 lb.-ft. (350 Nm) of torque. That’s good for 0-62 mph (100 km/h) acceleration in 6.7 seconds and a top speed of 149 mph (240 km/h). The engine, which offers start-stop function, is mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.

“We are bringing it (in) at a very reasonable price, 2.64 million baht ($89,000), which fits right into the segment, slightly above the A-class,” says Schulz. That price is positioned near the top of the segment and reflects a confidence burnished by pre-orders for the new A-Class.

“We will start delivering the A-Class (this month). The order bank is way beyond expectations,” Schulz says. “This is why we have increased our order with headquarters to be sufficient (in) supply for this year.”

The arrival of these two compact models comes on the back of a strong start to the year for MBT, reflecting the overall market’s continuing rise. Mercedes registrations are up 50% year-on-year to 1,884 units, including gray imports.

“We have a very strong increase year-on-year already, and we are very confident to continue with this strong growth,” Schulz says.

Additional hardware is on the way, with the new E-Class Coupe due later in the year and a revamped S-Class flagship in the pipeline.

“These products will be milestones in the upper segments,” Schulz says.