Mercedes' game-plan for India
Mercedes Benz is the oldest premium marque in the country but it's no longer the most popular where sales numbers are concerned. The last few years BMW and then Audi have been snapping at its heels and while BMW had a year ago overtaken Merc's numbers, this year Audi is poised to match if not get ahead as well. Obviously there are going to be many heads at Mercedes focusing on how to get back to being the most wanted premium brand in India. There is a plan, it's massive and it's poised to bring new levels of premium quality and experience to a wider audience.
The volume rush hinges on the new predominantly front wheel drive MFA (modular front architecture) platform. It's a platform aimed at not just developing markets where fuel economy is critical but also for developed markets such as Europe and the USA. It will underpin several affordable cars, two of which are hatchbacks for two distinct segments. The first of these is the A-Class (W176), the second the B-Class (W246). Both are large and spacious family cars built on a compact platform but with several body styles to serve a variety of purposes.
The Mercedes B-Class falls into a very curious niche, one that straddles a very, very large hatchback and a full size MPV. It's neither too flashy nor is it too dowdy. Even without the three pointed star at the front you can't help but admire its very strong and imposing personality. The B-class will be priced way, way below the C-Class, their most affordable offering for the Indian market at the moment. What's interesting to note is that Mercedes is finally exploring non traditional segments, segments that are entirely new and unexplored by premium manufacturers, yet have enormous potential to capture the fancy of consumers in tier-II cities and large towns.
The B-Class will be in Mercedes showrooms by the festive season and the only way to do that will be to introduce it as a CBU. These units will be top of the line products with a full range of goodies served up as standard equipment. The buzz they will create for a while will allow Mercedes to complete homologation, manufacturing (especially their paint shop) and after sales setup formalities. In a second phase the B-Class will be assembled and finally enter full manufacturing after any required localisation is put into place. So the B-Class should be available at very affordable prices by the first quarter of 2013.
Mercedes should get the B-Class with a small 4-cylinder diesel engine, especially considering their engine mix for India is around 90:10, the more popular choice being diesel. There will be a 4-cylinder petrol as well, a 1.6-litre engine sourced from Renault. Transmission will be the new 7-speed dual clutch transmission and front wheel drive. It is essentially a larger A-Class and is only front wheel driven, a first for Mercedes in India.
The A Class may have a two-box design but there is no mistaking the latent potential to be so many things more - a sedan, compact SUV, mini MPV, coupe and other iterations. To us it's the hatch, the sedan and the SUV that are most important. The hatchback is an edgy design and in many ways seems more concept car-like than the ready for production it is, especially that 'pin' grille. Yet quality is incredible, the interiors rich and the luxury and comfort aspect can now be sampled by more consumers. The design language seen on the A-Class is the handiwork of Gordon Wagener, one of the youngest design chiefs in the automobile industry. He was responsible for the design of the new CLS, the language on the SL, the SLK and the stunning SLS AMG.
Globally there are several petrol and diesel engine options firing up under the hood but what makes most sense for India is the 1.8-litre A180 CDI engine. This engine will be shared by the B-Class as well as the seven-speed dual clutch transmission. It too will only front wheel driven.
Mercedes is also looking very keenly at the compact SUV that the A-Class platform will spawn. Details are very sketchy at the moment but expect a torquey turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel engine, spacious interiors and features that will rival the X1 and Q3. This compact SUV will have both front and all wheel drivetrains and is more popularly known as the GLC and internally called the SUC (small utility cruiser) though for obvious reasons that won't be what the badge finally says.
On the sedan front the A-Class based sedan will slot under the C-Class making it the most affordable premium sedan you could buy. The Beijing motor show showcased a 4-door coupe form of an extended A-Class called the CLA and we can surmise from there what a more traditional 3-box would look like. Further clues as to how this would look will be provided once the CLC, the Concept Style Coupe and a smaller version of the CLS, based on the A-Class concept and an evolution of the F800 concept is shown in New York at the same time as the Beijing motor show. Mercedes maintains is the A-Class is a large car, not as large as the C-Class but definitely over four metres long. Even the engine configurations start globally with a 1.6-litre petrol and a 1.8-litre diesel which is way more than that prescribed by our government for excise benefits.
The second and more pertinent question is whether the Indian market is ready to absorb what is in effect a premium hatchback. It's a social problem where the price you pay should get you a visually substantial return, matters not if the ownership experience on the whole is amazing. Yet the silver lining lies with the A-Class based sedan and SUV both of which has excited Mercedes India tremendously. If there is anything that can revive ailing fortunes it is either one of these.
E-Class extended wheelbase
There are more plans as well. There is the extended wheelbase E-Class which is only manufactured and sold in China and nowhere else in the world. It's around 144mm longer than the conventional E-Class and increases leg space inside the cabin considerably, especially for rear seat passengers. The extended E-Class will be positioned at the top of the E-Class range. This should probably spur Audi and BMW to also bring long wheelbase versions of the A6 and 5 Series respectively, both of which are also exclusively made and sold in China.
If ever there has been a constant pioneer of technology, a benchmark to blow all other benchmarks off the map it's the S-Class. For more than a decade the S-Class has shown the way forward to all other luxury cars with its path-breaking technology, comfort, engines, luxury and features. A new S-Class expected to be launched globally in 2013 then, should only be an event as big as the second coming of Christ! It is going to be bigger, with a longer wheelbase and that means more interior space both to seat its occupants more comfortably as well as introduce new luxury goodies. There will also be a Pullman extended wheelbase version that will be an option to the Maybach which was recently taken off shelves.
An SUV smaller than the M-CLass, the GLK will be positioned to take on the Q5 from Audi and BMW's X3. The GLK is a bit boxy but by the time it is expected to be assembled here in India, in 2015, a lot of the design will have changed.
Team OD | 14 Nov 2019
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