Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan – click above for high-res image gallery

Mercedes-Benz has a pretty ambitious goal to grow its U.S. sales by 30 percent over the next five years, and execs apparently think they will need to expand downmarket to do it. According to Automotive News, Ernst Lieb, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, feels that the bringing in the B-Class hatchback and introducing additional C-Class derivatives will provide the best possibility of attracting more customer since growth opportunities for the E-Class and S-Class are likely limited.

Arch rival BMW already offers coupe, convertible and station wagon variants of the 3 Series in the States, along with the less costly 1 Series range, not to mention its ever-expending array of Mini products. In North America, surging Audi offers its A4 in sedan and wagon formats, along with the closely related A5/S5 Coupe and Cabriolet, and it also offers the less costly A3 hatchback.

For its part, Mercedes currently only offers the C-Class in a four-door sedan bodystyle in the States. A C-Class coupe is reportedly due to arrive here in 2011 with a convertible coming in 2013 off of the revised C-Class that's due in 2012. And while the C-Class expansion makes sense, critics have feared for years that introducing the B-Class in America could lead to brand dilution (which is part of the reason that parent Daimler's teetering Smart franchise has remained so distinct).

By comparison, in spite of its relatively slow sales here, the 1 Series arguably makes more sense in the context of the BMW lineup of performance luxury cars. So why isn't brand dilution an issue for Mercedes overseas? In Europe, where the A and B Class have been available for a decade, Benz has a different, more mainstream image, with a much more comprehensive model range.

Despite a comparative dearth of entry-level products, Mercedes' sales remain on a pronounced uptick in America, with sales through April increasing by 26 percent to 68,826 units. In 2009, Benz dealers sold through 190,538 units.

[Source: Automotive News - sub. req'd]

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