Merc likely to stay No 1 Cat A brand even with re-categorisation

Mercedes- Benz was the No 1 Category A brand here in the first quarter of this year, with the luxury make being on track to continue at the top of the pack despite the re-classification of the small-car category in the bidding for certificates of entitlement (COEs).

This is because the German brand's range of Cat A models is likely to continue dominating this segment during this period of high COE premiums. From January to last month, Mercedes-Benz registered a total of 542 Cat A cars for a 21.4 per cent market share (see table).

But none of its Cat A models made it as Singapore's most popular car; that honour belongs to the Toyota Corolla Altis, with 248 units registered in the first quarter(see table).

The Mercedes-Benz C180 is, however, the Cat A runner-up, accounting for 210 units. In 2012, this 1.6-litre turbocharged version of the C-Class with 156 hp was also Singapore's top model overall that year.

From February 2014, however, Cat A, for cars with an engine capacity below 1,600 cc, had an additional requirement: their engine output had to be limited to 97 kW or 130 hp.

The aim of this re-categorisation was to retain Cat A for mass-market models as originally intended, and to keep out luxury models, which have been blamed for soaring premiums.

But two luxury makes, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, have been able to stay in Cat A with new, lower-powered engines. The Audi has its A3, and Mercedes-Benz, the A-Class, B-Class and CLA-Class.

The Mercedes-Benz C180, with 156 hp, can still be registered with a Cat A COE if it was secured before February 2014. But even when this model is ejected from Cat A after July 2014, Mercedes-Benz will likely continue dominating the small-car segment for the rest of the year because of the popularity of its three Cat A models, especially the CLA180 with a 122 hp engine.

The sales manager of a rival brand said Mercedes-Benz's branding is what is attracting buyers, rather than the CLA-Class' sporty design.

"Even with this new range of small cars, the profile of the Mercedes buyer is basically unchanged: he or she is still relatively conservative, slightly more mature with a higher disposable income. The badge is still bringing in the buyers rather than the styling," said the sales manager.

In the overall passenger car market, Mercedes-Benz was also the top brand in the first three months of 2014; its E-Class was the overall best-selling model, with 474 units registered.

The BMW 3 Series was the runner-up with 320 units, and the Toyota Corolla Altis rounded up the top 3.

The top model in 2011, the BMW 5 Series, was Q1 2014's fourth-most popular model with 241 units. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class came in at fifth, with 225 units sold.