Mercedes-Benz Talks 911 Rival, CLA-Class In Geneva

GENEVA -- Mercedes-Benz was mainly interested in talking software at the Geneva motor show, namely Apple iOS integration that will be offered in the new C-class. We did, however, get a few morsels regarding the hot hardware that will replace the SLS AMG: It will be lower priced than the SLS, and will be offered in more variants.

“If we did go in at a different price level, then we’ll have more opportunities for a big portfolio out of the sports car than we had with the SLS…There will be more lifetime movement, there will be more lifecycle variants,” says AMG chief Tobias Moers.

One of the variants of the new car, code named C190, could well be a convertible. European bureau chief Georg Kacher has reported that the Porsche 911-fighter will debut as a coupe only, but Moers says a drop-top version is under consideration.

The ability to expand the lineup and build sales throughout the lifecycle of the new vehicle will be key. Volume for the pricey SLS has never exceeded 1000 per year in the United States. Mercedes hasn’t been able to spin off scores of successful variants, as Porsche has with the 911.

The new sports car is based on the same architecture as the SLS and will likely be powered by Mercedes’ new 4.0-liter V-8 engine. (The Gullwing’s 6.2-liter V-8 is, alas, gone for good). It will be assembled at the Sindelfingen, Germany, factory that currently produces the SLS, Moers says.

CLA-Class An Early Success

On the other end of the automotive spectrum is the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class compact sedan. The German automaker introduced the CLA to the United States just last September but is already considering additional compact car variants for our market.

“We’re in the midst of the planning and starting development for the next generation [compact cars]. This will include even more different variations, and this will include as a target the United States, as well,” chairman Dieter Zetsche told a group of journalists Tuesday.

Mercedes has sold nearly 20,000 CLAs in its first six months on the U.S. market. Crucially, the car does not seem to be cannibalizing C-class sales, as some 80 percent of CLA buyers are trading in cars from other brands, according to Mercedes. The GLA-Class compact crossover, which is based on the same platform, goes on sale in this fall. The B-class hatchback will be sold here only as a battery electric vehicle.

One of the challenges to expanding compact offerings in the future would be finding a place to build them. Mercedes sold 370,000 compact cars worldwide in 2013, and has manufacturing capacity of less than 500,000 small cars.

The other issue for the luxury brand will be to maintain its overall profitability as it sells more cheap cars. “We’re working hard to make the margins in the segment closer to our overall strategic target,” Zetsche says.

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