Mercedes chases Audi in roadster with splashless wipers


The world’s oldest carmaker is packing the sixth generation of the open-top two-seater with gadgetry including a retractable roof that becomes transparent at the push of a button and a trunk lid that opens and closes with the wave of a foot. The windshield wipers spray cleaning fluid directly from the blade, preventing splash from dousing passengers when the top’s down.

The SL, which will start at euro 93,500 ($123,400) when it hits European showrooms March 31, is an attempt by Mercedes to underscore its reputation for opulence at the same time it expands downmarket to boost volume with more modest models, such as the recently unveiled A-Class hatchback, after being overtaken in sales by Volkswagen AG’s Audi last year.

“The SL is a showcase of everything that Mercedes can do,” said Jonathon Poskitt, an analyst with LMC Automotive in Oxford, England. “It’s underlining the brand’s high-end position and provides that halo effect” for the new compacts.

Daimler Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche aims to reclaim the top spot in the luxury-car segment from Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) after slipping to third last year in sales and profit. The strategy to fight back is two tiered.

At the low end, Mercedes is rolling out a slate of small cars, including the A-Class, the van-like B-Class, a compact sport-utility vehicle and a four-door coupe, to spur sales. At the higher end, cars like the SL and three new variants of the S-Class flagship, which will be overhauled next year, are aimed at boosting profit and protecting the brand’s luxury image.