Plans to build a sport/utility vehicle (SUV) larger than the M-Class should be firmed up soon, says Mercedes-Benz USA Inc. President Paul Halata.

“I will be going to Stuttgart to meet with my colleagues on whether to build a bigger M-Class model,” Mr. Halata says “We'll make a decision by the end of the year.”

If approved for production, the model probably will be assembled at the Vance, AL, facility, Mr. Halata says.

But he draws the line at an even bigger, pickup/SUV hybrid to compete with the Lincoln Blackwood and Cadillac EXT.

“I cannot envision those in our line,” he says. “We cannot be in every vehicle segment.”

What is on tap for the U.S. is the A-Class small car now sold in Europe.

“I want to do it and (Juergen) Hubbert (the DaimlerChrysler AG executive in charge of Mercedes) also wants to bring it to America,” Mr. Halata says, adding that the A-Class would help draw younger buyers. “It would add oomph into our line.”

Prior to Sept. 11, Mercedes was on track to reach sales in the 212,000-214,000 range this year. Since then the company has lowered its target to 205,000 units.

“We will sell more than last year,” Mr. Halata says, adding that sales will rise again in 2002, though he declines to provide a number.

One expected growth area is station wagons. “We're preparing to offer more station wagons than now,” he says. The company also is seeking to add all-wheel-drive models to its lineup, including a 4-matic C-Class station wagon, he reveals.

Mercedes also is firming up its marketing plans for the Maybach super luxury sedan. The company will offer a Maybach franchise to all exclusive Mercedes dealers, but dealers will be required to provide a separate display area for the Maybach.