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Mercedes-Benz targets Mideast luxury market

German firm unveils new CLS in Beirut - before it reaches the U.S.

With a flashy regional premiere for its new CLS series on Monday, Mercedes-Benz is increasing spending in the Middle East, a luxury market worth over 29,000 annual units and one of the most important for the German auto-maker.

Unveiling the CLS in Beirut ahead of its debut in the U.S. indicates the importance Stuttgart attaches to the region, where last year's sales exceeded 10,000 units in a market covering the Gulf, Levant, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"I think headquarters realized that, with the success of the SLR and Maybach, we are a major market, second or third after the United States," said Julian Millward-Hopkins, a spokesperson for Daimler-Chrysler Middle East, which is based in Dubai.

The region accounts for a sizable share of global sales for the sporty SLR McLaren and the "yacht-like" Maybach, which measures up to 6.2 meters in length. Both vehicles sell for over $370,000, while waiting lists have emerged for the limited edition SLR which has reportedly been selling for up to 800,000 euros ($984,000) in Lebanon.

The Middle East ranks third in ownership per capita for the S class and AMG series, according to Millward-Hopkins, who said targeting niche markets is part of Mercedes "segment-busting" strategy.

According to marketing manager Ashraf Tamim, Mercedes-Benz will release three new models next year, an M class, S class and the B class, which is soon to be followed by the more luxurious R class - a new kind of multi-passenger vehicle which he said was neither sport utility vehicle nor van.

Selling for over $100,000, the new CLS 350 is also being marketed as a new segment: the first four-door coupe. It is powered by a seven-speed automatic V6 engine and will also initially be offered in the eight-cylinder CLS 500. A supercharged AMG model will come out next March.

Monday night's premiere featured a performance by Arabic pop star Ragheb Alami, who drives the CLS in his new music video, which also made its debut at the event.

Beirut 18-10-2004
Habib Battah
The Daily Star



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