Small Cars, Big Plans: BMW and Mercedes-Benz Bringing Small Cars to the U.S.

With the upcoming fuel economy regulations and uncertainty about fuel prices in the U.S., automakers are increasingly looking at small cars for the typically super-sized U.S. market. We told you earlier today that Audi is likely bringing its next A1 here, and both BMW and Mercedes-Benz plan to bring small cars to the U.S. by 2012.

We've heard about some of Mercedes' small car plans, which have made it so far that the company has actually shown styling bucks to dealers to decide which bodystyle vehicle to import. The latest reports indicate that no less than three models based on the compact car will make the trek across the Atlantic, one of which will feature an alternative powertrain.

The three B-Class model variations include a sedan, coupe, and crossover, of which either the coupe or crossover will go on sale first. Despite the models' B-Class underpinnings, they won't be named as such in the U.S. according to Automotive News. Vice president of sales at Mercedes, Joachim Schmidt, wouldn't reveal the planned names either.

Although Mercedes is entering a smaller market (size-wise) with the B-Class vehicles, it has no plans on going any smaller in the U.S. For now, Mercedes' smallest model, the small A-Class hatchback, will remain in Europe. We will however get a compact van with an alternative drivetrain -- either a hydrogen fuel cell or an extended-range electric setup.

BMW has long been known for producing some of the best handling, rear-wheel-drive cars available and leaves the front-wheel-drivers to its Mini brand. That will change as the German automaker is bringing several front-wheel-drive model variants to the U.S. Media reports indicate that, like Mercedes, BMW is bringing at least three versions to the States. The compact vehicles will make it here by 2012, one year ahead of the company's planned Megacity electric vehicle.

Although Ian Robertson, BMW's board member in charge of sales and marketing, wouldn't reveal what bodystyles will be coming to the States, we've uncovered a few details. One of the planned bodystyles is essentially a minitiarized version of BMW's 5 Series GT based on the Mini Clubman. The second bodstyle will be a compact crossover based on the Mini Countryman and the third variant will be a compact minivan based on the upcoming Mini Minivan. All three vehicles will feature four-cylinder power.

Interestingly, BMW also has high-performance versions of these models planned. The product planners right now are debating whether to downsize the M-subbrand and badge them as M models or offer new ti/tii versions of the small, high-performance front-drivers.

Source: Automotive News (Subscription required)

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