Automotive News Digital Edition [sub] reports that Mercedes-Benz is holding consumer clinics in the US, gathering input ahead of its launch of the first front-drive Mercedes models to be sold in the US. Sales of the B-Class-based front-drive models won’t being until “after 2011,” and Mercedes admits that a design freeze has not yet taken place. Still, one thing is certain: prospective customers are not being shown an MPV-like hatchback along the lines of the current B-Class that’s sold in Europe and Canada because of dealer concerns. Says MB-USA development boss Bernhard Glaser:
[Dealers] were concerned about the previous generation because it did stand out and that is kind of a whole different brand sell that you have to try and jump over. This will be seamless.
Instead of the small family hatch, Mercedes is holding clinics on three other models based on the next-gen B-Class platform: a crossover, a sporty coupe and a sedan. Dealers who have seen the clay models at these clinics are responding positively, but obviously there’s much work left to be done. For one thing, Mercedes hasn’t even decided if the B-Class name will make to America, or if it will receive a market-specific nomenclature.
What the entry-level Mercs might well receive is a little cross-platform competition. And no, we don’t mean the next-gen Renault Twingo is due to arrive stateside. Rumors have been rampant that Infiniti is considering its own sub-EX crossover model built on the same B-Class platform as part of the Renault-Nissan-Daimler tie-up. Whether this crossover will be built at all is still under question, let alone whether it will come stateside. Still, the potential cannibalism and branding issues are a clear danger.
And speaking of branding issues, how are clinic attendees reacting to the notion of a front-drive Merc? No word yet from the Benz boys on that point yet. On the other hand, given how BMW’s attempts to justify the RWD-to-FWD shift have been going, we’ll assume that no news is relatively good news.