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By Brent Snavely Detroit Free Press

DETROIT -- Mercedes-Benz unveiled a concept with hints of its highly anticipated CLA-class sedan Sunday night at an event at the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel in Detroit.

When it goes on sale this fall the CLA-class will be Mercedes-Benz's entry-level model aimed at younger buyers. It will be priced about $5,000 less than the popular compact C-class with a starting price of about $30,000, about $5,000 less than the starting price for the C-class.

Increasingly, luxury automakers are introducing smaller, sporty cars and crossovers with price-tags between $30,000 and $40,000.

On Monday, Lincoln will unveil the compact MKC compact crossover at the Detroit auto show, Cadillac launched its compact ATS sedan last year and BMW launched its subcompact X1 crossover last year.

Larry Dominique, president of TrueCar.com, said the percentage of high-end luxury sales remains steady. Most of the growth among luxury brands is coming from the lower end of the market. But competition with mainstream brands is getting more tougher because the quality and available technology in those brands continues to improve.

"You are going to see a greater number of luxury models, but I am not sure that luxury is going to capture a larger share of the overall market," Dominique said.

Those interested in the Mercedes CLA class should look closely at the photos from Sunday's invitation-only event because the car will not be shown at the 2013 North American International Auto Show, which begins Monday.

According to Mercedes, the next time the CLA will be shown will be at the Geneva Motor Show in March.

Success in the U.S. market is more important than ever for both Mercedes-Benz and BMW with Europe's recession and the automotive industry there struggling to deal with five years straight of declining industry sales.

In 2012, BMW outsold Mercedes-Benz for the second year in a row even as sales of the Mercedes-Benz brand increased 13 percent.

BMW finished off the year with a strong December and boosted its sales for the year to a total of 281,460 cars and crossovers in the U.S. compared with 274,134 for the Mercedes-Benz brand.

"BMW closed out 2012 by throwing haymakers and it connected on enough of them to hold on to its luxury sales crown," Jessica Caldwell, an analyst for Edmunds.com said earlier this month.

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