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How Mercedes-Benz aims to become King of SUVs
PROPERTY agent Rachel Koh has no interest in driving off-road, but she drives a Mercedes-Benz GLA 180, a compact Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV). Her reason for buying it? "I liked the look of it," she says with a laugh.
Ms Koh is part of a growing group of drivers who no longer subscribe to the traditional idea of a luxury car as a stately saloon. Instead, they are being won over by cars once thought of as utilitarian and boxy.
SUVs in general have encroached heavily on car sales, and now account for more than a third of total volume in Singapore. In some markets overseas, they actually outnumber cars in terms of sales units.
By that measure, luxury brands lag the rest of the market. According to figures from the Land Transport Authority, in the first eight months of this year, Mercedes sold 753 SUVs out of a total volume of 5,162, meaning SUVs accounted for 14.6 per cent of the brand's sales.
In contrast, Land Rover, a company that specialises in SUVs, sold only 323 cars here during the same period.
Mercedes' arch-rival BMW sold 871 of its "X" branded SUVs, which made up 25.7 per cent of its total sales of 3,387.
To grab a bigger slice of the SUV pie, Mercedes has decided to flood the market with models that come in all shapes and sizes. It has six SUV families on its price list here, in order to cater to every taste and budget, versus BMW's five SUV lines.
These range from the compact GLA to the mammoth GLS with seven seats. There are two SUVs designed to look both tough and sporty, in the form of the GLC Coupe and GLE Coupe.
The various SUVs can trace their lineage to the rough-and-tumble G-Class, which began life nearly 40 years ago as a utilitarian workhorse.
But the modern take on an SUV places far more emphasis on style and comfort than the ability to conquer the jungle. The brand's latest SUVs, a facelifted version of the GLA and a basic new variant of the GLC, don't even come with four wheel-drive, a must-have feature for serious off-roading.
Still, the product strategy has started to pay off on a global level. Mercedes delivered 78,000 SUVs in September, a record number that accounted for 35 per cent of worldwide sales. "Our customers' enthusiasm for the SUVs from Mercedes-Benz is a great confirmation of our work," Britta Seeger, the board member in charge of marketing and sales for Mercedes-Benz, said in a statement.
In other words, the SUVs satisfy buyers' desire to try something different.
Before settling on the GLA, Ms Koh had considered a couple of four-door Mercedes models. "I looked at the CLA-Class, but didn't like the look of the rear that much," she says. "The C-Class is perhaps a little too boring looking for me." The rugged looks of the GLA eventually won the day.
As buyers' tastes become more adventurous, it's only natural that they gravitate towards cars that look more adventure-ready.