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Take That, GM Style: Mercedes Does Weimar Decadence

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While across town, General Motors rang in the auto show with hip-hop goddess Mary J. Blige, Mercedes-Benz took their opening press event of the 2008 Detroit auto show in an entirely different direction.

It was a synthesis of 1920s Berlin and ultra-hip modern Detroit courtesy the city’s new Museum of Contemporary Art and Palast Orchester--you remember them from Marilyn Manson’s wedding? Vocalist Max Raabe, charmeur, delivered a pitch-perfect Weimar songbook through an imagined tube radio, like David Hyde Pierce’s more affected brother. The irony almost proved too rich when the band launched into Britney Spears's "Oops!... I Did It Again." Detroit has not seen such mugging since...what, three blocks away?

Leggy blonde Kim Cattrall from Sex and the City was there, arriving in a white Maybach laundalet, and so was leggy Daimler chairman Dieter Zetsche, who promised that 2008 would be another banner year for his company, newly shorn of Chrysler LLC.

Last year the company was getting “into fighting shape,” Zetsche said, obliquely referring to DaimlerChrysler’s epic divorce. Still, on the year, Daimler sold 1.286 million vehicles including the Mercedes, smart and Maybach brands, up 2 percent over 2006. The vast majority, 1.185 million cars, came from Mercedes-Benz, which saw its sales rise 3 percent.

In the U.S., the numbers were even stronger. Mercedes-Benz sold more than 235,000 vehicles in the U.S. in 2007, a record for the 14th year in a row. And Daimler’s Tuscaloosa plant produced its 1 millionth vehicle.

Zetsche’s goals for 2008 include opening new markets for the corporation, and advancing the cause of diesels and hybrids in the U.S., while producing a 10-percent return on sales.

“These are ambitious but attainable goals,” Zetsche said.

In product, the goals will translate into lots of revised model lineups: the A-Class, B-Class, M-Class and CLS-Class cars get mild makeovers, along with a revamped SL roadster, which TheCarConnection.com will drive in a few weeks. All-new models include the new GLK, which was unveiled at the press conference, and the CLC, a hatchback spun from C-Class mechanicals.

The GLK’s been penned with the U.S. in mind, but not so the CLC, says Steve Cannon, new head of marketing for Mercedes-Benz USA. The new hatchback, previewed in photos and due at Berlin Fashion Week later this month, won’t be coming to the States, Cannon says, due to low interest in the last Benz C-Class hatchback marketed here.

The new GLK - remember, you saw it here first

More press-conference photos, tastefully rendered in black and white


Palast Orchester’s MySpace page
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