• May 24th 2010 at 10:59AM
  • 15

Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan – click above for high-res image gallery

Mercedes-Benz has a pretty ambitious goal to grow its U.S. sales by 30 percent over the next five years, and execs apparently think they will need to expand downmarket to do it. According to Automotive News, Ernst Lieb, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, feels that the bringing in the B-Class hatchback and introducing additional C-Class derivatives will provide the best possibility of attracting more customer since growth opportunities for the E-Class and S-Class are likely limited.

Arch rival BMW already offers coupe, convertible and station wagon variants of the 3 Series in the States, along with the less costly 1 Series range, not to mention its ever-expending array of Mini products. In North America, surging Audi offers its A4 in sedan and wagon formats, along with the closely related A5/S5 Coupe and Cabriolet, and it also offers the less costly A3 hatchback.

For its part, Mercedes currently only offers the C-Class in a four-door sedan bodystyle in the States. A C-Class coupe is reportedly due to arrive here in 2011 with a convertible coming in 2013 off of the revised C-Class that's due in 2012. And while the C-Class expansion makes sense, critics have feared for years that introducing the B-Class in America could lead to brand dilution (which is part of the reason that parent Daimler's teetering Smart franchise has remained so distinct).

By comparison, in spite of its relatively slow sales here, the 1 Series arguably makes more sense in the context of the BMW lineup of performance luxury cars. So why isn't brand dilution an issue for Mercedes overseas? In Europe, where the A and B Class have been available for a decade, Benz has a different, more mainstream image, with a much more comprehensive model range.

Despite a comparative dearth of entry-level products, Mercedes' sales remain on a pronounced uptick in America, with sales through April increasing by 26 percent to 68,826 units. In 2009, Benz dealers sold through 190,538 units.

[Source: Automotive News - sub. req'd]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      In the US the Mercedes image is closely tied to legacy Max Hoffman built when he began importing the SL range in the 1950s. Building on the success of those prestige models Mercedes sealed its future as a purveyor of distinct, luxury automobiles.

      That the brand has been synonymous with trucks, buses, and taxis overseas is something only an American traveler is aware of.

      For them to expand 30% in the United States they are probably asking do they want to spread their global image here (like Ford and the One Ford concept), or can they compete credible, premium offerings in ever decreasing sizes.

      I'd put my money on downsized, not downmarket Benzes in the next 5 years. Probably very likely with FWD no less.
        • 5 Years Ago
        From a price standpoint, Mercedes-Benz has already gone "downmarket" - had to due to new competition from the likes of Lexus, Infiniti, etc.

        It's amazing to think what Benzes were retailing for as late as the 1990s compared to today e.g. a 1995 E320 Cabriolet started at around $80k in 1995 dollars while the 2011 E350 Cabriolet starts at just $58k! That's practically half price when adjusting for inflation.
      • 5 Years Ago
      A C-Class Wagon with the 3.2-liter turbodiesel Bluetec V-6 would be nice.
      • 5 Years Ago
      $25k Benzes and $50k Hyundais, who would've thunk it? :-)
      • 5 Years Ago
      Why not push the B-class at Smart dealers?
        • 5 Years Ago
        The B is one foot shorter than the C-class... not enough to shove it to Smart dealers if you ask me.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I know for myself, MB moving away from manual transmissions in thE US for almost all of their lineup, has made me ignore them for years when considering a new a car....which is a shame, since I do like their aesthetics more than BMW in many ways.

      While I think the C has that option for some trim levels, If they want to go downscale, I would recommend bringing that option back for all those smaller models.....some of us aren't fuddy duddy's who just want to steer a leather couch. Otherwise, I'll stick to that A3, thanks.....

        • 5 Years Ago
        Ha, you know you're right. I go out of my way to get a manual transmission, and these days it's become a more hard-to-get "luxury" item than any other feature. It's honestly the only must-have feature I look for.... everything else is negotiable, even color like in your case (although if the color is horid, I'm not sure I could settle).

        • 5 Years Ago

        If manufacturers were as smart as they think they are, they would offer manual transmissions with a price premium. Most drivers who really want the stick-shift (so-called "enthusiasts") would pay extra to have it. I know for certain that I would pay a price premium for a manual transmission car if thats the transmission I really wanted.

        Hell I got stuck with a friggin gray car (GRAY!!!) even though I wanted red just because the gray was the only one with the 6MT. I absolutely hate the color, but had to have the stick. So I'd definitely pay more for the stick on a "luxury" car if it was offered, even at a premium. Just my 0.02... :-p
      • 5 Years Ago
      MB is offering pretty good leases on the C-Class compared to Lexus. You can get a C300 Sport for $399/month tax included in NY with no down payment other than the acquisition, fee, tag & registration and 1st month payment. Compare to what it costs to get a Lexus ES350.
      • 5 Years Ago
      At the very least MB, start selling wagon. C63 AMG Wagon anyone?
        • 5 Years Ago
        I'm with you, jonny. MBZ missed out on a sale a year ago b/c they didn't offer the C-wagon here. I've seen it in Europe (along with the modern C-coupe), and am a fan. Instead, I replaced my A4 Avant (after an 80-plus-year-old thought my driver's door was a thoroughfare) with an A4 sedan, and after being disappointed with it, I know if I want a wagon it's either another A4 or going Nordic. (After owning a 207-hp, ~250-hp turbo-four, I found the 328iT's I-6 a bit anemic.)

        Far be it for me to suggest that the young demographic that may seek a C-class may also need some of the utilitarianism of an Estate, and do not like the handling trade-offs of a SUV.
      • 5 Years Ago
      With competition intensifying from other luxury brands, MB needs to exploit all the segments and niches. So bringing out a C-class coupe and convertible is a good idea.

      MB should also offer a 4-seater convertible version of the S-class (CL-class) coupe to do battle with the Bentley Continental GT convertible, Aston Martin DB-9 volante, Maserti Grant Sport cabrio, BMW 650i cabrio, and Jaguar XK8 convertible.

      Granted, MB offers the 2-seater SL-class roadster, but there are many wealthy customers who would prefer a roomier 4-seater S-class convertible, one much larger than the existing E-class convertible. It's a shame MB has failed to offer a CL-class or S-class convertible all these years since it would have attracted many customers who otherwise bought 4-seater convertibles from Bentley, Jaguar, etc.

      Lost opportunities, indeed!
      • 5 Years Ago
      I have to agree with the "brand dilution".....The M-Benz is pretty much tier 1 top of the food chain when it comes to mainstream luxury automobile...if you want to upgrade from a Benz there's only 2 places to go either Bentley or Rolls...The big majority of people that buy Benz don't want to be associated with the lesser kind, its the reason they dropped big $$$$ for a Benz in the first place...

      If Daimler wants to profit in the compact segments they should execute the Smart brand better....
      • 5 Years Ago
      I don't see the problem with the B or C Class Coupe/Convertible. In fact I think I would be in the market for a C Class Convertible eventually. (And don't say the E Convertible is based on the W204 platform, its in a total different price range, as one could afford the E Coupe, E Sedan, GLK, M class before thinking of an E Convertible).

      Nobody things that a 1 series owner or a C Class owner is the same a 7 series or S Class owner. Sure, the old W203 C might sometimes be confused for a CLK or E class but overall if Mercedes can keep the seperation clear. I think they will be fine.

      But on another note, even the small downscale models should appear to be premium. One of the problems with the old C Class Coupe was the base trim included cloth seats. I am aware they are normal in Europe, but here it seriously diluted the brand and I think almost 80% of people stuck with the cloth seats which dilutes the brand image in used resale. Stick to vinyl/leatherette or leather seating.
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