Mercedes-Benz will soon be delivering its new four-door compact coupe that is reminiscent of the 190, nicknamed “Baby Benz.” This model, introduced in 1982, was the first move Mercedes made to appeal to less affluent car buyers.
Dieter Zetsche, Daimler CEO, is seeking to return the company to its former glory as world’s largest luxury car maker. He said at the annual shareholders meeting in Berlin, “We want to beat the competition on a permanent basis. The course we have set is the right one, undeterred by the ups and downs of the markets.”
Mercedes sales and marketing chief Joachim Schmidt explains, “From a volume point of view, the extended compact car family will become our biggest model line, and the family will expand further in the next generation.”
The new line will be based on a front-wheel drive design and will include at least five models including the CLA and an SUV. The CLA will not have a hatchback; instead it will have a trunk, which attracts more car owners in the U.S. and China, where more sedans are driven. Design chief Gorden Wagener has given the brand an edgier modern look.
The 1980’s shift to smaller cars led to the C-Class (190 successor) becoming the brand’s worldwide best seller. Thomas Schiller, automotive partner at Deloitte consulting firm in Munich, commented, “Mercedes is thoroughly changing. Mercedes used to be the pinnacle of comfort and elegance, and it’s more and more moving toward sportiness and a youthful and modern design.”
This move brings more competition for Audi and BMW. Mercedes will be undercutting both with the new CLA in the U.S. It will start at $29,900 for the 211-horsepower version. That compares with the 180-horsepowwer BMW 3-Series at $32,550 and the Audi A4 211-horsepower model priced at $32,500.
Estimates by HIS Automotive are that the new move toward compacts, the updated E-Class and a new generation of S-Class could result in a 7 percent rise in sales; a total of 1.45 million vehicles this year. This would move Mercedes ahead of both BMW sales increase of 56,500 vehicles and Audi, where sales are down slightly. IHS estimates that the CLS will bring an additional 36,000 sales for Mercedes.