Mercedes-Benz mulls hybrid move

Mercedes-Benz mulls hybrid move

German car maker still top luxury brand

Driven by robust sales, Mercedes-Benz (Thailand), the local unit of the German luxury car maker, is studying the possibility of producing compact and hybrid cars locally.

Mercedes-Benz has announced actress Araya 'Chompoo' Hargate as the first brand ambassador in Thailand for the new GLA-Class sport-utility vehicle.

"At present, C-Class, E-Class, S-Class and M-Class models are made in Thailand. We're looking to expand the assembly line here to cover other models," vice-president Martin Schulz said, adding that more details would be disclosed in 2016.

The car maker's Thonburi Automotive Assembly Plant Co in Samut Prakan province has annual production capacity of 19,000 vehicles but makes only 4,500.

"Thailand's automotive industry landscape will change in early 2016 once the new excise tax regime takes effect," Mr Schulz said.

The new tax regime will be based on carbon dioxide emissions, E85 compatibility and fuel-efficient vehicles such as eco-cars and hybrid vehicles and not engine size like under the current structure.

The new regime is scheduled to take effect in January 2016.

Compact models available in Thailand are the A-Class, B-Class, CLA and GLA lines. Hybrid models using BlueTec emissions technology are the E-Class, S-Class, M-Class, G-Class and GL-Class.

One-third of Mercedes-Benz cars sold in Thailand are compact models with prices starting from 1.99 million baht.

"To have more models assembled in Thailand will help lead Mercedes-Benz vehicles to become more competitive," said Mr Schulz.

In the first seven months of this year, Mercedes-Benz sold 5,213 cars in Thailand, up by 18% year-on-year.

It enjoys a 47% market share for luxury cars, making it the top local maker in this segment. BMW, Volvo and Volkswagen also make luxury cars in Thailand.

Mercedes-Benz has reported consecutive sales growth over the last three years, with 10,144 cars sold last year, up by 55.8% from 2012. The 6,513 cars sold in 2012 represented an increase of 34% from 2011.

President and chief executive Michael Grewe said Mercedes-Benz is upbeat about keeping its growth momentum in 2014 and remaining the luxury car leader in Thailand for the 14th consecutive year.

"Despite overall vehicle sales shrinking 39.2% over the first seven months, the luxury segment has felt only a little pinch," he said. "Mercedes-Benz is still happy about its performance this year."

Mr Grewe forecast the overall luxury segment would grow by 5-10% to 20,000 cars in 2014.

The Federation of Thai Industries' automotive club on Wednesday reported domestic car sales last month numbered 69,267 vehicles, down by 29.5% year-on-year, with the seven-month figure 510,178, down by 39.2%.

In a related development, Mercedes-Benz yesterday introduced its new compact sport-utility vehicle, the GLA-Class, priced at 2.44 million baht.

Thai-British actress Araya "Chompoo" Hargate has been named the brand ambassador.

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