Mercedes Enlists Kate Upton, Takes Aim at BMW With CLA

Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz is taking aim at Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, knocking its foe’s U.S. luxury sales victory last year and pushing its new small car with an ad enlisting model Kate Upton and artist Usher.

Mercedes coughed up leadership in the U.S. luxury market at the end of 2012 because BMW used “sales engineering” to seize the lead in December, Steve Cannon, chief executive officer of Mercedes-Benz USA, said yesterday on Bloomberg Television. Mercedes will get back on top with new entries such as the CLA sedan that Upton and Usher will promote in an almost 2-minute commercial set to air during the Super Bowl on Feb. 3.

“When we beat BMW and we do it straight up because we’ve out-marketed them, we’ve got better products than them, that’s going to be a victory that I will celebrate,” Cannon said in the Bloomberg TV interview with Betty Liu.

Mercedes is restoking the rivalry with its fellow German automaker a year after the two delayed the release of their final 2011 U.S. sales results, with each suspecting that the other would adjust their numbers to claim victory. Last month, BMW’s U.S. sales surged 39 percent, vaulting the Munich-based carmaker past Mercedes to snatch the luxury-market crown for the second consecutive year.

“There was some engineering, we’ll call that sales engineering, to get to a number to say ‘We’re No. 1,’” Cannon said of BMW in response to being asked whether the company offered deep discounts at the end of the year. “That’s a Pyrrhic victory for me.”

‘Intense Pressure’

“Mr. Cannon must be under intense pressure for having lost the game,” Kenn Sparks, a spokesman for BMW, said yesterday in an e-mail. “The sales are solid and speak for themselves.” Mercedes-Benz “needs to move on and focus on the year ahead.”

Mercedes lost the 2012 U.S. luxury-vehicle sales crown after being ahead through November. The Stuttgart, Germany-based carmaker’s deliveries rose 9.5 percent in the last month of the year.

The BMW brand finished 2012 with 281,460 luxury vehicles sold, topping Mercedes-Benz by 7,326, excluding non-luxury models. The two German automakers were vying for the top U.S. luxury-auto brand after outselling Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus two years ago. Lexus was the top luxury brand in the U.S. for 11 years until natural disasters in Asia curtailed vehicle production in 2011.

The Mercedes ad airing during the National Football League’s championship game opens with actor Willem Dafoe, who played the Green Goblin in the 2002 film “Spider-Man.”

Upton, Usher

The commercial, called “Soul,” begins with Dafoe as the Devil offering the main character a chance to have the CLA “and everything that goes along with it” in return for his soul. The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” plays in the background.

The character is thrust into a daydream in which he screeches the tires of a CLA on his way to a red carpet event. Once there, Upton yanks him under her arm to pose for paparazzi and Usher busts moves alongside him on a dance floor. The spot concludes with main character declining the Devil’s offer after seeing the CLA has a starting price of $29,900.

“We’re launching a new product at a new price point that opens up the brand,” Cannon said of the CLA. Advertising the car before its September debut during the Super Bowl, which will be played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, was a “no-brainer” for the company, he said.