It is not the kind of thing one would expect of Mercedes-Benz of North America, distributor of some of the most expensive and sought-after luxury cars. And maybe that's why the company has made no public announcement.

But Mercedes-Benz is offering rebates on many of its leftover 1987-model cars.

There is a catch: The rebates, ranging from $1,000 to $3,000, go to Mercedes-Benz dealers that have already exceeded their sales quotas for this year. Dealers, in turn, can offer some, all or none of the rebates to buyers of their cars, which have sticker prices ranging from $28,450 to $59,580.

And if the Mercedes-Benz dealership is not eligible for rebates, the buyer can still bargain -- since that dealership, in all likelihood, has an oversupply of cars.

Car shoppers with less than a Benz-worth of bucks can count on sales incentives on most U.S. autos as well as some imports. Faced with an overall 75-day supply of cars, the three American car companies -- General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. -- have all announced sales incentive programs with cut-rate financing as low as 1.9 percent.

By comparison, most of the U.S. domestic auto companies offered 2.9 percent financing to help eliminate bulging inventories at this time last year.

So far Subaru is the only Japanese manufacturer offering incentives, using 3.9 percent loans and rebates of up to $1,500 in an attempt to shrink the estimated 87-day supply of unsold cars on its lots.

Auto industry analysts say the domestic makers have offered incentives so routinely that buyers have come to expect them. But that has never been the case with imports, least of all Mercedes.

"I must say that I'm a little bit surprised," said Susan G. Jacobs, vice president and manager of automotive research at Merrill Lynch Economics Inc. in New York. Buyers of European luxury cars, lured by the status as much as the quality of their purchases, often seemed willing to pay whatever dealers asked, Jacobs said.

But the "general sluggishness" of the U.S. economy, combined with steep prices rises generated primarily by the weakening dollar, seems to be generating price resistance among U.S. buyers of foreign cars in general and luxury car buyers in particular, Jacobs said.

European luxury car prices have risen as much as 8 percent since last October, adding as much as $3,000 to some models, she said.

The rising prices have cut demand -- even for autos whose buyers who don't ordinarily worry very much about money.

Mercedes-Benz is accustomed to having a car supply of less than 40 days in a market where a 60-day supply is considered normal.

But Automotive News, an industry trade journal, reports that Mercedes-Benz has a 46-day supply of cars.

BMW, the darling of affluent baby-boomer car buyers, is showing a hefty 73-day supply and offering financing as low as 6.9 percent, to sell off many of its leftover 1987, 300-series, models.

Acts of desperation for the high and the mighty?

"No," said Mercedes-Benz spokesman Fred Chapman. Mercedes-Benz is doing well, but the company needs the incentives "for an orderly cleanup of 1987 models" in the U.S. market, Chapman said.

Oh, about those Mercedes-Benz cars: Dealers get $1,000 on the 190-series models; $2,000 for the 260-E, 300-E and 300-D; and $3,000 for the 420-SEL. The Mercedes-Benz 560 models, the 300-TD wagon, and the 300-SDL sedan are not included.

Said Mercedes-Benz spokesman Chapman: "I wouldn't say that this is the first time we've done this. But it isn't something that's happened in recent times.