CHICAGO – The tug-of-war over the U.S. luxury-segment crown continues as Mercedes-Benz currently is “No. 1 in the market” and plans to stay there over the next year, a company insider says.

Three recently launched SUVs will keep the auto maker at the top of the heap, as well as upcoming S-Class and C-Class refreshes and the introduction of the entry-level CLA-Class next model year, spokesman Geoff Day says here during a media drive for the luxury maker’s Sprinter commercial van.

“We really can’t build these cars (fast) enough to satisfy demand,” he says, noting recent upgrades in the ML and GLK cross/utility vehicles and GL SUV. “We think we have all of our stars in alignment.”

Mercedes is clinging to a 17,000-plus unit lead on rival BMW in U.S. sales so far this year. It is nearly twice that volume ahead of Lexus, which is looking forward to an eventual return to the top spot after weathering natural disasters in Japan.

But even if Mercedes doesn’t remain No.1, “we have good products in the right places,” Day says.

The European economic crisis has affected production somewhat, leading the auto maker to ramp up production elsewhere. “We’ve been able to steal some production from other parts of the world,” he says.

The U.S. and China make up about two-thirds of Mercedes-Benz’s market, another indicator of the brand’s ability to survive Europe’s financial woes.

Day says the auto maker also is eyeing a revamp of its customer-service experience.

“Some people in the showroom haven’t even driven our cars. I find that ludicrous,” he says.

Rather than adopt other auto makers’ customer-service techniques, Mercedes-Benz is looking for inspiration in how luxury hoteliers such as Ritz-Carlton operate. The company also is investing in a training program for its dealer network.

The CLA-Class, scheduled to debut in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, also will be a key to getting more traffic into showrooms. “It’s going to speak to a whole new generation,” Day says, noting the vehicles will focus heavily on telematics and other in-car entertainment.

The C-Class will be made larger to distinguish it from the CLA-Class. Though the CLA-Class will be skewed to younger buyers, Mercedes officials wouldn’t be surprised if it drew older customers as well.

The auto maker predicted the A-Class would appeal to a similarly youthful audience in Europe “and it ended up having an average (buyer) age of 62,” Day says.

Look for advanced telematics systems in future Mercedes vehicles as the auto maker continues fostering its relationship with Hughes Telematics, acquired by Verizon earlier this year. Hughes helped develop Mercedes’ MBrace telematics system that is proliferating throughout its model line.

Much of that development work is performed in the U.S., Day says.

“What they’re doing in the States is literally years ahead of what they’re doing in Europe,” he says. “Today we are working to build cars that are ready at the get-go, rather than taking it and adding to it later.”

afoley@wardsauto.com