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Mercedes-Benz has big plans for small cars

Mon, 31 Jan 2011

Breaking outside its American position of rear-wheel-drive luxury vehicles, Mercedes-Benz will launch its new front-wheel-drive architecture in the United States in the next three years in the form of a coupe, SUV and possibly a small wagon or compact hatchback.

Joachim Schmidt, Mercedes' global sales and marketing boss, said Mercedes is developing at least four models based on its MFA, or Mercedes Front-wheel-drive Architecture.

"We will introduce the next generation of our MFA family to the U.S.," Schmidt said in an interview. Two variants, maybe even a third, are planned for the United States, he said. The coupe will be launched in the United States in the summer of 2013. Mercedes insiders call it a "baby CLS" because it will have similar styling to the brand's larger CLS coupe-styled four-door model. An AMG version will arrive in Europe later and is expected to be sold in the United States.

An SUV intended to be a rival to the BMW X1 will follow in the summer of 2014. Both variants will go on sale in Europe three to five months before their U.S. launch.

In Europe, Mercedes will launch the next-generation B-class hatchback at year end and the A-class hatchback in the summer of 2012.

Mercedes has no plans for U.S. sales of those front-drive variants but could do so if it sees demand.

A Mercedes source said: "The U.S. is not the typical compact hatchback market, but if the demand arises we could react very quickly and introduce these two variants in the U.S. far quicker than in the past."

Schmidt said a fifth variant based on the front-drive architecture is being discussed for the United States and Europe. The Mercedes source said a small wagon has the best chance to be approved for production. A decision is due this fall.

Schmidt also said:

-- Mercedes' new alliance partner, Renault-Nissan, is interested in using the front-drive architecture for an entry-level model for Nissan's Infiniti brand that would be sold in the United States, Infiniti's biggest market. Schmidt said Daimler is in talks with Nissan, but there are "no decisions so far."

-- Daimler will strengthen its U.S. diesel offerings. It plans to position its S class flagship as the most fuel-efficient luxury sedan on the market by launching the six-cylinder diesel Mercedes S350 BlueTec in several months. Schmidt said a C class with a four-cylinder diesel will follow "in the midterm."

Company sources expect the car could come as early as next year.

By Harald Hamprecht- Automotive News Europe