Mercedes Expands Sirius Deal; Karmazin Salary Figures Emerge

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Mercedes-Benz USA is now expanding its commitment to Sirius Satellite Radio, according to information revealed late Tuesday.

The pair now plan to offer Sirius options within 80 percent of new Benzes this year, and 90 percent by the end of 2008.  Additionally, the luxury leader will now position Sirius as a standard feature on the S-Class and CLS model lines, a move that broadens existing packages involving SL-Class, CL-Class, AMG and 600 series vehicles.  “We are happy to see Sirius go standard across so many Mercedes-Benz vehicle models,” enthused Mel Karmazin, chief executive of the satellite provider.  Sirius will continue to offer six months of free service to Mercedes customers, a concept that aims to lure longer-term listening relationships.  The stepped-up Mercedes commitment follows a string of refreshed dashboard deals with Sirius, including those involving Lincoln, Mitsubishi, and Audi.  All of those manufacturers are aiming to attract a more entertainment-focused buyer, and gambling with dashboard real estate to gain an edge.

Outside of the automotive sector, the Mercedes announcement comes alongside a number of fresh developments for Sirius.  The company is planning an expensive acquisition of rival XM Satellite Radio, and trudging through early-stage Congressional hearings to gain approval.  Confronting the questions is chief executive Mel Karmazin, a high-profile executive who continues to assert that the merger will produce more choice and better pricing options.

Meanwhile, fresh salary figures for Karmazin are raising some eyebrows.  The executive pulled a handsome $4.3 million in 2006, according to recently-filed regulatory paperwork.  The executive received a sizable performance bonus of $3 million in February, as well as stock awards of $2.83 million and options valued at $24.1 million.  Those heavyweight earnings could intensify effort by rights holders like major labels to grab bigger royalty percentage payouts, especially given the humongous, $302 million payout issued to Howard Stern last year.