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French Version

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,10 18 2004
Habib Battah
The Daily Star
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