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German car makers gain ground in South Korea

Mercedes and BMW both sold more cars in South Korea than General Motors (GM) for the first-time last month.

Demonstrating how premium German brands are growing in popularity and that consumers are moving away from GM after it announced a major restructuring.

BMW saw the biggest jump with February sales nearly doubling to 6,118 vehicles, industry data showed, which was just a little behind Mercedes which led the imported car rankings with 6,192 cars, up 12 per cent from the same period a year earlier.

GM’s announcement last month that it plans to shut down of one of its four factories in South Korea and was weighing the fate of the three other plants resulted in domestic retail sales nearly halving in February to 5,804.

With consumers worried about loss of after-care services and residual value, GM lost its long-held spot as South Korea’s No. 3 automaker, slipping to sixth place.

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E-Sprinter to follow in 2019

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter – Range

The all-new Mercedes Sprinter 2018 van range has been revealed.

Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars says: “More than 20 years ago, the Sprinter established the segment that bears its name today. Since then, it has set new benchmarks for large vans through innovation time and again. No wonder it’s one of the bestsellers in Daimler’s portfolio.”

“We are investing some €2.5 billion around the globe in the new Sprinter’s development, its worldwide production network, and sales and after-sales,” stated Dieter Zetsche.

Mercedes has focused on a customisable vehicle that will be able to cater to a wider range of needs for big and small companies alike. It will be able to come in a multitude of forms including Panel van, Tourer, pickup, chassis, bus or traction head as body types.

In addition to these options will be a number of driver configurations, cab designs, body lengths and other equipment features.

The assistance systems available for the new Sprinter include e.g. a self-cleaning reversing camera showing its image in the rear-view mirror, a modern Parking package with a 360-degree view, and a rain sensor with an integrated Wet Wiper system for optimum visibility even during the wiping process.

According to Mercedes more than 1,700 different versions can be configured as a result.

The new Sprinter is available for order now and will be launched in the European market starting in June 2018. The other markets will follow gradually. With an attractive price level starting in Germany at 19,990 euros (NZ$32,100) for the entry-level version with front-wheel drive, the new Sprinter offers every customer a model tailored precisely to his or her needs.

E-Sprinter to follow in 2019

The next generation Sprinter van from Mercedes-Benz will be designed to accommodate a fully electric powertrain and also autonomous driving.

Mercedes says the eSprinter will primarily be used in large metropolitan areas, where range isn’t critical, but emissions are. The battery will be able to recharge to 100 per cent in around 30-60 minutes.

Mercedes will release more details to later on in the year. 

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Mercedes to skip Detroit auto show

Mercedes-Benz’s all-electric Concept EQA

Mercedes-Benz has confirmed they will be skipping the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in 2019, striking a blow to the event as more manufacturers save major vehicle introductions for tech conferences.

In the past auto companies would typically save more practical announcements about new cars, trucks and SUVs for the Detroit auto show and the like.

But as manufacturers become more eager to demonstrate their autonomous, electric cars of the future, more and more major automakers are wanting a noticeable presence at tech shows.

People close to the source told Bloomberg News that Daimler AG, Mercedes’s parent are planning on doing just that. The car group is moving toward standalone introductions of new models and technology summits such as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

“We are presently working to adjust the scale and size of our auto shows and trade fairs concepts to better align with our upcoming model launches,” the company said in a statement.


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Mercedes goes online

Mercedes-Benz believes that 25 per cent of its new and used vehicles sales will be completed online by 2022.

Britta Seeger

“In digital, we want to offer even more in the future and a different experience, and we are aiming to offer this in a seamless way,” Mercedes global sales boss, Britta Seeger said.

“In order to drive this journey, this is a huge effort that we together with our dealers have to undertake.”

Mercedes is working with its dealers to develop new platforms to engage customers, some of whom might not be the typical Mercedes-Benz buyer.

Seeger described Mercedes Me stores that have opened around the globe in places such as busy urban districts and airports. The company also has operated pop-up shops for short periods of time.

“The customer or prospect or just somebody who wants to drop by is taken into a Mercedes world without a feeling of Autohaus,” she said. “This is very much appreciated. We have excellent results from the customers. They just love to come.”

Mercedes also is entering electric racing series Formula E.

“This is important,” Seeger said. “We want to go where the customer is.”

Mercedes will continue to build on the strengths of its core business, she said. The brand just completed its second straight year of leadership in luxury sales both globally and in the U.S. market. 

“We truly believe this is a huge chance for us,” Seeger said. “We have to be fast. We have to have the right mindset.”

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Rivals to test subscription services

Both Mercedes-Benz and BMW are preparing to launch vehicle subscription pilots in the U.S. this year.

Subscription plans offer customers a vehicle to drive for a monthly fee that includes insurance, maintenance and pickup and delivery. Customers typically can switch among available vehicles based on needs.

Luxury rivals are preparing to launch vehicle subscription pilots in the U.S. in 2018.

Mercedes will offer a pilot to figure out whether a subscription model has long-term merit.

“We need to learn,” Seeger said Monday at the Detroit auto show. “In different markets, we want to try this out.”

Mercedes is also cautious about what Seeger calls a “big threat” to the subscription model: whether the vehicle you want is available.

“On the weekend, if it’s sunshine outside and if everybody wants to have a cabriolet, and if I apply five times to have a cabriolet and I don’t get it, what does this cause?” Seeger said.

Mercedes-Benz hasn’t determined where in the U.S. it will pilot the program and when, Seeger said. The automaker has active subscription pilots operating in other countries, she said, citing a Smart-brand program in Italy and a Mercedes-brand program in Germany.

BMW is “most likely” going to go forward with a subscription model in the U.S. said BMW North America CEO, Bernhard Kuhnt.

“We are in the phase of looking at it and evaluating together with BMW Financial Services,” Kuhnt said. “And if we are going to do it, we are going to pilot it first to learn more about it.”

“At the end of the day, the consumer is going to decide if that’s something they want to do,” Kuhnt said.

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BMW outsold by Mercedes

The BMW 5-Series

BMW reported a fantastic 2017 sales record but was outsold by Mercedes-Benz. Sales of BMW brand models rose 4.2 per cent in 2017 to 2.09 million passenger cars and SUVs, the carmaker said on Friday.

In comparison, Mercedes finished the year with a 9.9 percent gain to 2.29 million, which claimed the top spot in global luxury-car sales rankings for a second year.

The BMW 5 Series , which underwent a model change during 2017, achieved growth of 55.2 per cent, or an increase of 30,359 units, in December, with sales up by 6.3 per cent or 291,856 units in the full year. BMW also sold 103,080 electrified vehicles around the world, an increase of 65.6 per cent.

As for Mercedes-Benz, the most popular model was the C-Class in both Sedan and Estate guises. Over 450,000 units were sold over the course of 2017 while the E-Class accounted for about 350,000 units of the grand total. 

BMW, which had kept the global luxury sales crown for about a decade before slipping behind Mercedes in 2016, said deliveries were fuelled by a 9.6 percent gain for its SUV line-up and a 15 per cent increase for the 1-Series.

BMW also posted a 9.5 percent gain in December registrations to 195,916 vehicles, narrowly beating Mercedes and Audi whose sales came in at 193,534 and 180,250 cars respectively.

“I’m confident BMW sales will continue to grow during 2018, while we also maintain our focus on profitability,” said new sales chief Pieter Nota.

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Daimler’s new ‘Ask Mercedes’ chatbot

Daimler will soon be introducing a digital assistant called “Ask Mercedes” that ties together previous 
digital customer support projects into a single voice-activated app.

Chief digital officer Sabine Scheunert said “Ask Mercedes” will be available in several markets and languages immediately before being rolled out globally. Mercedes is one of Daimler’s leading car brands.

Scheunert said the “chatbot” will allow both existing and also potential customers to interact with Daimler services, day or night, using voice-activated commands or text-based chat.

Chatbots are software programmes which can respond to posed questions from users using a conversational approach.

Customers can present questions to the Ask Mercedes app when it is installed in the company’s recent model cars, or by using an app or by speaking to a Google Assistant voice-activated electronics controller when they are at home.

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Mercedes recall worldwide

Over one million Mercedes-Benz vehicles are set to be recalled worldwide, thanks to an unintended issue with airbag deployments.

According to a statement from Daimler, an electrostatic discharge as well as a broken clock spring and insufficient grounding of steering components could lead to deployment of the airbag on the driver’s side.

As part of the fix, the statement said dealers would add new grounding to the steering components.

Up until now, no deaths have been reported and the issue is not related to the recent Takata recall.

The recalls covers some 2012-2018 model year A, B, C, and E-class models and CLA, GLA and GLC vehicles.

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New details dropped for E-Class Cabriolet

Mercedes-Benz has announced further details, including manufacturer’s pricing, for the new E-Class Cabriolet.

The four-seater convertible is the fourth member of the E-Class line-up, which has been entirely refreshed over the past 12 months, and features a fully automatic soft-top cover.

The E 300 opens the range, powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine producing 180kW of power and 370Nm of torque matched to a 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission.

The E 400 4MATIC is the first model to contain an all-wheel drive system. A 3.0-litre, six-cylinder engine, partnered with the same 9G-TRONIC automatic configuration, produces an increased 245kW of power and 480Nm of torque.  

As well as the bigger engine, the E 400 also contains a 13-speaker Burmester surround sound system and virtual image windscreen projection as standard.  

The soft cover, which comes as standard across the range, can be fully opened and closed in 20 seconds when travelling at speeds of up to 50km/hr.

Inside the cabin, two 12.3-inch displays serve as the infotainment and vehicle control system, and can be voice controlled.

The new E-Class Cabriolet has increased its dimensions, and is now 4826mm long, 1860mm wide and 1428mm tall, and Mercedes says the wider footprint particularly benefits passengers in the rear.

So far, only the Manufacturers List Price in Australia has been revealed, at $(AU)123,500 for the E 300 and $(AU)157,500 for the E 400. These prices include GST but exclude dealer delivery and on-road costs.

Final local pricing is yet to be announced and drive-away price information will be available from authorised dealers.

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Mercedes to recall entire EU diesel fleet

Daimler chief executive Dieter Zetsche

Virtually Mercedes-Benz diesel vehicle sold in the EU since 2011 will be recalled, Daimler has announced.

The move comes after allegations that the Mercedes-Benz had faked emissions tests were published in a German newspaper last week, and an investigation into Daimler in May.

Daimler refuses to say the announcement is a recall, dubbing it a “service action” in a statement.

Owners of nearly every model produced since 2011 will be asked to return their cars to their local dealer so the engine can be adjusted to reduce emissions.

Altering the 3 million cars on European roads will cost the German car maker $346 million, the Telegraph reports. The recall includes popular C-Class and E-Class Mercedes vehicles.

“The public debate about diesel engines is creating uncertainty,” chief executive of Daimler Dieter Zetsche said in a statement.

“We have therefore decided on additional measures to reassure drivers of diesel cars and to strengthen confidence in diesel technology.”’

The software update is expected to take approximately an hour, and will extend emissions controls on the engine so it will activate under wider conditions.

Zetsche said the action wasn’t the end of the diesel engine for Mercedes, and that the company is “convinced that diesel engines will continue to be a fixed element of the drive-system mix, not least due to their low CO2 emissions.”

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Mercedes-Benz under investigation

A German newspaper has reported that Mercedes-Benz is under investigation for possibly selling over a million cars with excess emissions in Europe and the US.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung, citing a search warrant issued by a court in Stuttgart, Germanny, says prosecutors were examining the possible use of illegal software to manipulate emissions test results in Mercedes-Benz vehicles between 2008 and 2016.

Both the prosecutor and Daimer, Mercedes’ parent company, declined to comment to Reuters regarding the report, but Daimler said the firm was fully cooperating with authorities and did not believe cars will lose certification.

“We take comfort from the fact that this is a European issue, not a US investigation. We also do not believe these Merc cars will lose their certification,” analysts from Bernstein Research told Reuters. “Our judgement is that Merc will be asked to recall these cars for a ‘software fix.’”

Bernstein estimated that if Daimler faced penalties at a similar per-car level to Volkswagen, the total fine would amount to $275 million to $400 million.

Stuttgart prosecutors conducted raids on 11 different sites in Germany as part of a wider probe into possible excess diesel emission from Daimler, and two employees are under investigation.

Mercedes-Benz has dropped plans to seek US approval to sell its 2017 diesel models, and investigations from the US Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are ongoing.

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