NEW YORK â€“ Ernst Lieb, president and CEO Mercedes Benz USA, says the ML 450 hybrid cross/utility vehicle unveiled at the auto show here goes on sale later this year exclusively in the U.S. and Canada.
The new hybrid-drive system, which employs two electric motors integrated into the transmission, is a product of a joint venture betweenAG, AG and Corp.
Capable of operating purely on electricity or its V-6 combustion engine the ML 450 also can use both systems simultaneously to produce up to 335 hp and 381 lb.-ft. (517 Nm) of torque.
That's 88% of the power output and 94% of maximum torque produced by Mercedes' V-8 gasoline engine. Yet the hybrid CUV consumes 50% less fuel than a V-8 and 30% less than comparable V-6s.
The vehicle optimizes fuel efficiency in both highway and city driving. Its Environmental Protection Agency rating is 24/21 mpg highway/city (9.8-11.2 L/100 km).
Lieb claims the new hybrid offers V-8 torque with 4-cyl. fuel economy, but says Mercedes doesn't expect the hybrid's sales to reach as high a penetration as the diesel model.
The Mercedes chief is bullish on diesel penetration. â€śWe'll see an increase in diesel sales,â€ť he predicts. â€śBut it depends on fuel prices.â€ť Sales of the Bluetec E-Class 50-state diesel account for 8%-13% of that entry's overall sales, depending on the month. â€śThe sales are pretty much where we targeted them now.â€ť
Lieb says the overall luxury segment fell 18% last year and predicts sales will slide further this year. â€śThe (poor) housing market is the main contributor to this.â€ť
Total sales in the luxury segment were down 35% after the first quarter, while Mercedes sales slid 30%. â€śWe're up 16% in market share in March,â€ť he adds.
The three main players in the segment were bunched tighter in March than ever before, withahead with a 17% market share, followed by Mercedes with 15% and Lexus with 14%.
â€śI may be alone, but I think sales are going to get better in three or four months,â€ť Lieb says. â€śBuyers are holding off right now, but there has been a huge increase in used-car sales.â€ť
Mercedesâ€™ used-car sales rose 29% in March, 57% in February and some 60% range in January, compared with year-ago, he says. â€śOur dealers are probably only down 15% because of used-car sales.â€ť
Lieb attributes the sales jump to buyers looking for better deals than the best new-car-purchase opportunities.
One bright spot for Mercedes is the sale of the new GLK compact cross/utility vehicle that accounts for 50% of the volume in the segment. â€śI never thought it was going to that high,â€ť he says.