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Mercedes boss: “there aren't many niches left to fill”

The end of niche-filling may be nigh, as Merc's boss hints at buyer confusion

Mercedes’ biggest arrival at the 2018 Geneva show was its littlest model, the fresh A-Class hatchback, complete with that ultra-stylish, tech-crammed interior. Meanwhile its tyre-wrecking tearaway offshoot, AMG, presented the new AMG GT four-door, in 53 Hybrid and 63 V8 variants.

Alongside the brand-new CLS, hot E-Classes, ultimate S-Classes and the Maybach, Mercedes now offers five separate four-door, saloon-ish models of high luxury and monstrous power. And that’s before you include the SUV lines…

So, is Mercedes is danger of running out of ideas – of having filled every last niche twice over? Top Gear posed this very question to the chairman of Mercedes’ parent company, Daimler, in Geneva. Here’s what Dieter Zetsche has in response:

“Of course, every new car we launch has some ‘substitution aspects’ to the existing portfolio”, said the ever-affable German. “But typically we have a higher cannibalisation impact on our competition, which is what we are aiming for!” He cracks a broad smile from behind the trademark moustache.

Mercedes is indeed doing roaring business. It pinched the crown of world’s biggest-selling premium carmaker from BMW two years ago, and consecutive record years in 2016 and 2017, despite a nervy car market in post-dieselgate Europe, have defended the crown. Merc needs to keep eroding sales from BMW and Audi in particular to stay on top.

“If you were in the times of Henry Ford, he would say ‘you can have all the versions you want as long as they are Model T’. We’re not in that world any more,” adds Zetsche. “There’s a level of fragmentation where even the customer might get confused, and you’re not adding value any more, and to find the right balance there is certainly not easy.”

Admitting that even Mercedes owners could find the convoluted and overlapping model lines tricky to decipher is an interesting confession. Zetsche is quick to point out the answer lies in taking Mercedes into completely new blank space.

“More recently we have made some significant moves,” he said. “Look at the X-Class, for example. Moving into pick-ups – that’s not just a minor niche, it’s a substantial move forward.

“There are not that many niches left to fill, of course. But, we stay creative and innovative. I can’t tell you what ideas we will have tomorrow. But we have a pretty full picture.”

Answers for what Mercedes should add to its ranks next – and what needs to be deleted – on a digital postcard below…

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