DETROIT — U.S. Mercedes-Benz dealers have invested more than $1 billion in new facilities and upgrades, earning praise from Ernst Lieb, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA.

“Of 350 dealers, 300 have invested in new facilities,” he tells auto journalists here, stressing the role of retailers. “That is outstanding.”

Although the auto maker has financially aided such projects, the high level of participation is unprecedented, Lieb says. “Our relationship with the dealer body is the driving force of this business.”

Through November, MBUSA sold 129,679 cars, up 15.8% from year-ago, led by the E-Class model, according to Ward's data. The luxury German importer sold 73,789 light trucks in the same period, up 26.4%, led by the M-Class SUV.

That compares with 2009 when Mercedes saw U.S. sales fall 50%, as the economic crisis whacked the auto industry in general and luxury brands in particular.

Mercedes came out of the calamity stronger and wiser, Lieb says. “I told dealers, ‘A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.’”

Expecting to trail competing import-luxury brands Lexus and BMW in the U.S. this year, Mercedes is content with the No.3 slot, Lieb says, voicing a preference for profits over volume. “We will not play games.”

U.S. dealers as a group will travel to parent-company Daimler AG's headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, in April to view new products in the pipeline.

“We will be taking them there, so they know they put their money on the right horse,” Lieb says. “If our dealers don't make money, if they are struggling to survive, they will not be able to offer the service our customers deserve and pay for. Dealers are such a huge part of what we do.”

Mercedes dealership facility improvements range from cosmetic surgery to all-new multi-million dollar buildings off the blueprints of Daimler's Auto Haus project, featuring a refined, clean look and a generous use of glass and steel.

It is similar to the industrial-architecture appearance of company-owned stores in Germany.