What does Mercedes-Benz USA, which sold more luxury cars than anyone else in the nation last year, do for an encore in 2000?

Ironically, one thing is to launch a vehicle with an incredibly limited production.

It's the CL500 Coupe, retailing for $85,500 and billed as one of the most technologically advanced cars ever.

MBUSA's allotment for this year is 2,500 units in the U.S. That's about 20% of worldwide distribution for the German-made vehicle.

In contrast, MBUSA sold a total of 189,437 units in 1999, making it the luxury sales champ after six straight years of increasing sales. E and M Class vehicles were the best sellers.

MBUSA plans to keep the assault going this year, and "not look back," says Ken Enders, the importer's vice president of sales and marketing.

But the CL500's limited production will do little to help MBUSA retain its luxury sales champ title.

Instead, the new coupe will go a long way towards fostering exclusivity - an important part of Mercedes-Benz's image, says Mr. Enders.

"The CL500 is for people who demand exclusivity," he says.

That includes successful entrepreneurs, individualists and high-profile types such as pro athletes and Hollywood celebrities, say MBUSA market researchers.

The car is "pure seduction," says Mr. Enders. At the same time, it's an awesome machine.

It's the only vehicle in the world to offer active body control. ABC is designed to eliminate body roll and pitch while cornering, braking or accelerating.

Its 5L V8 engine kicks out 302 hp at 5,500 rpm and 339 lb-ft of net torque at 2,700 rpm. It hits 0-60 mph in 6.1 seconds.

Its weight is down 580 lbs. from the 1999 CL500 Coupe, which weighed in at 4,695 lbs.

The cost is down, too. Last year's CL500 retailed at $91,900. That's $6,400 more than the 2000 model that went on sale in December.

Each of the 315 Mercedes-Benz dealers in the U.S. will get at least one CL500, says Mr. Enders. After that, allotment is based on individual dealerships' overall sales performances.

There may be some give-and-take over which dealers gets how many CL500s, "but we're going pretty much by the book with this one," says Mr. Enders.