Mercedes-Benz dealers are preparing for a new type of customer to bop into their showrooms — people who are younger, hipper and less affluent than traditional Benz buyers.
The reason for that is an all-new the C-Class Sports Coupe, a sassy hatchback priced at $24,950, which is unprecedented for Mercedes, heretofore not known for stickers that low.
It's part of Mercedes' effort to gain ground in the fast-growing entry-level luxury segment which overall accounts for more than 70% of the nation's 1.3 million-unit luxury car market.
“There are still a lot of people who think you can't get a Mercedes-Benz for under $30,000. This vehicle does it. But it doesn't cheapen the brand,” says Paul Halata, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA.
MBUSA marketers expect the C-Class Sports Coupe prospects will be “hip, cool and trendsetters” — people the luxury car company never really has dealt with before.
“Our challenge is to reach out to this group of people whom we have never spoken to before and convince them to consider Mercedes-Benz,” says product manager Karen Makris.
MBUSA anticipates 70% of the coupe buyers will be singles (compared to 19% for Mercedes Benz overall) and 60% will be women (compared to 46% for Mercedes overall.)
The median household income of a coupe buyer is expected to be about $75,000 a year. That's far from the poverty level. But it's also far from the average $159,000 income of other Mercedes buyers.
Meanwhile, dealer salespeople are getting trained on how to deal with this new type of customer.
“Dealer training is a key component,” says Ms. Makris. “We're preparing them to deal with people they've never dealt with.”
That means convincing sales personnel to devote time to prospects who may arrive at the dealership in an older model Volvo or Acura Integra with 100,000 miles on the odometer, says Andrew Shaffer, a MBUSA product specialist.
“We don't want salespeople saying, ‘Why should I spend an hour with these people when I can be dealing with a higher line customer?’ Believe me, that can happen,” says Mr. Shaffer, a former car salesman at Lexus of Leigh Valley in Pennsylvania.
He adds, “We've got to get across that people interested in the C-Class Coupe are new customers for a new product.”
MBUSA introduced the C-Class sedan in 1993 in the hopes the new vehicle — priced just above $30,000 — would jumpstart sales. At the time, MBUSA was selling about 62,000 total units. The importer sold 205,614 vehicles last year in the U.S. The C-Class led the pack.
Although the marketing strategy for the new coupe is aimed at the younger set, Mr. Halata thinks the car also will appeal to Baby Boomers and beyond — especially people looking to buy a second or even a third car.
He predicts MBUSA initially will sell about 16,000 coupes a year in the U.S. But he adds, “That's conservative. I wouldn't be surprised to see it go higher.”
A 2.3L four-cylinder in-line engine powers the new sports coupe. It hits 192 horsepower at 5,500 rpm. It comes with a sport-tuned front and rear suspension.
The exterior profile is “wedge” shaped, and seven inches shorter than the C-Class sedan. Distinguishing it from its C-Class cousins is a high back with a functional aerodynamic spoiler for extra stability at cruising speeds.