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Mercedes GLA to lead SUV assault

The most important of Benz's new babies is the all-new GLA.

As many as eight SUVs will crowd into Mercedes-Benz showrooms in Australia within five years as the German brand expands its family-friendly lineup.

The most important of Benz's new babies is the all-new GLA, but it is expected to be followed by a tiddler, a crossover coupe based on the ML and a youthful newcomer built from last year's Ener-G-Force concept.

The mid-sized GLK, which has been a glaring Australian omission in recent years in a class dominated by the Audi Q3 and BMW X3, is already confirmed below the existing ML, GL and G-Class. It is coming in 2015 as the second-generation GLK is finally built with right-hand drive.

But it's the GLA which will make the biggest impact next year, as Benz's five-model compact drive nears its conclusion. The GLA is one of four models now confirmed - after the A-Class and B-Class that are on sale, as well as the CLA coupe - with one still secret.It's most-obvious rival is the Range Rover Evoque, a design-driven success that's been a sellout around the world.

The GLA is coming in the second quarter of 2014 and company spokesman, David McCarthy, says it will do a similar re-set job in the SUV class to the A-Class that has drawn buyers from a range of cheaper rivals including the Volkswagen Golf. "The obvious competitors are amongst our German colleagues. But where it will be positioned on price, there will be a lot of people who lift their expectation from something like a Subaru," he says, without actually revealing the price.

McCarthy says the GLA is the most important of the compact newcomers, even though the A and B-Class have been selling strongly. "We're excited about it. The compact SUV category is very strong. And we want to play there. "It's also an important stepping stone to the GLK, the ML, and further up the SUV range." And he cannot resist a swipe at the GLA's likely rivals.

"Dare I say, it's the stylish utility vehicle," he says tongue-in-cheek. "It looks great and it's something very new for us. But we're going to have problems with supply." As details of the GLA become public, McCarthy confirms a commitment to AMG performance models - the A45 is already up and running in Australia - for everything short of the B.

"There will be AMG versions of all of them, except for the B Class. This year we will potentially do 1500 AMGs in total," he says. Mercedes is forecasting more than 1000 baby-car sales this year, as the brand looks to beat BMW in the showroom stakes.

"People joke about this, but our goal is to sell every single car that we put our name against for a profit. We don't believe it moving forwards by looking backwards," says McCarthy.

This report is on Twitter: @paulwardgover