Mercedes-Benz looks for a younger audience

A Chinese boy poses beside a Mercedes-Benz car during the 2012 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition at China International Exhibition Center on April 29, 2012 in Beijing, China.

Mercedes-Benz is making changes to its luxury cars. It's all in pursuit of attracting younger customers. The company is trying to shake its reputation as a manufacturer of old-man cars.

So how do you transform an old-man car company into one that appeals to the youth of America? Well, if you are Mercedes, you replace your 65-year-old chief designer with a newer younger model. In 2008 that was 39-year old Gorden Wagener.  His mission: to design cars that are sporty.

"The design cues that make a vehicle look sporty are borrowed from predators of the animal world really," says Eric Nobles with The Car Lab. "They are long, low, lean, wide and big powerful haunches or shoulders."

The new A-Class is Mercedes attempt at sportiness. It looks like a sleeker version of the Ford Fiesta. Noble says that even if the A-Class is well received, the design alone won't attract younger buyers.

Take Audi, for example, which does appeal to a younger demographic then Mercedes. "Audi did a very savvy job of placing that product in the hands of design leaders when they first launched some key models," Noble says.

Audi sought out up-and-coming architects all over the U.S. and gave them free cars, "to demonstrate that these are the sorts of folks that drove an Audi and that was successful in shaping opinion of not just the model but of the brand," adds Noble.

Mercedes' biggest obstacle to attracting younger buyers isn't design, according to Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell. "To get a younger buyer you have to start targeting the lower end of the price market," she says. "So of course that is not something they can do with their $100,000 cars, but with their A-Class."

With a base price of $35,000, the A-Class is one of Mercedes' cheapest models. But still more than double the price of a Fiesta.

About the author

David Weinberg is a general assignment reporter at Marketplace.

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