Mercedes Woos China’s “Bigger Is Better” Crowd With New GLK-Class

Major Automakers See Continued Demand For High-End SUVs

The China-produced version of the GLK Class includes more legroom and Chinese-language voice support

With demand for luxury SUVs remaining strong in China despite a wider automotive slowdown, top automakers have been quick to cater to the whims of the Chinese SUV buyer. This year alone, we’ve seen Jaguar Land Rover make a splash at the Beijing International Auto Show with its Victoria Beckham edition Evoque,  Aston Martin hint that it will revive its Lagonda SUV by 2014, Bentley debut its EXP 9 F “Falcon”, and Lamborghini eying wealthy drivers in China and Russia with its URUS SUV.

Aiming to ensure supply meets rising demand, BMW announced plans to further expand its production base in China, and presumably hoping to keep up with its rival, now Mercedes-Benz looks intent to woo the “bigger is better” crowd with its new locally made GLK-Class.

Launched to great fanfare last week during the China Open, the new GLK-Class — which Mercedes produces in China with its local joint venture partner Beijing Auto — is an attempt to inject new life into the automaker’s China operations. Coming off a highly successful 2011, during which the auto heavyweight sold a record 198,520 Mercedes-Benz, smart, Maybach and AMG vehicles in China (a 35 percent increase year-on-year), Mercedes has seen deliveries rise a tepid 6.7 percent this year, compared to gains of over 30 percent for BMW and Audi. With an all-new exterior and updated interior, the new GLK represents a high-stakes bet in a booming yet highly competitive premium segment.

The first locally made GLK-Class rolled off the assembly line last year

Along with a 3.0-liter, 245 horsepower V6 engine, enhanced 7G-Tronic Plus automatic transmission, 4Matic all-time four-wheel-drive system and 4ETS electronic traction system, the new GLK includes some obviously China-facing features. Though its wheelbase is identical to the previous GLK, the new model crams an extra 40mm of legroom into the back seat — an amenity that’s become so commonplace for the China market that it’s almost strange to call it a feature — and Chinese-language support for its Linguatronic voice command system. Customers have six exterior color choices and six interior leather options, as well as wood or aluminum trim options for the central control board.

The new GLK is expected to compete in China mainly with the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Volvo XC 60 and Land Rover Freelander.


Market Analysis, Retail