Mercedes thinks small, upgrades hatchbacks

by Hiroko Nakata

Mercedes-Benz Japan Co. launched two upgraded versions of its hatchback compacts Wednesday that boast better fuel efficiency to meet rising demand for environment-friendly vehicles.

The new models, the A-Class and B-Class, have 6 percent to 7 percent better fuel efficiency than existing models as well as enhanced exterior and interior designs, the Japanese unit of German automaker Daimler AG said.

As soaring fuel costs press the market, even the famous luxury brand seems to be focusing on small cars.

Hatchbacks, including compacts, accounted for 24 percent of Japan’s auto market in 2007, compared with 13 percent in 1999. And soaring gasoline prices are likely to expand that share, Mercedes-Benz Japan chief Hans Tempel said.

“My assumption is that we will probably see this market segment of compacts, hatchbacks and compact station wagons further increase,” Tempel said in Tokyo.

The new A-Class will retail for ¥2.69 million. The model with the upgraded interior will cost ¥3.05 million. The roomier B-Class will cost ¥2.99 million to ¥4.20 million.