By on May 10, 2010

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.

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20 Comments on “Mercedes Clinics US-Market Front-Drive Models...”

  • avatar

    Just this past week I had a long-time Mercedes salesman telling me that there was a good reason BMW and Mercedes didn’t offer FWD cars.

  • avatar

    IMHO, most Americans wouldn’t give a wiff if a M-B was front or rear-wheel drive. Only a (small) percentage of driving enthusiasts would. On the other hand, anything approaching a hatchback in style will mean instant death in the US market…we just don’t “get” hatchbacks in general, much less ones from a “premium” manufacturer.

    • 0 avatar

      We may not ‘get’ hatchbacks, or wagons, but we ‘get’ SUVs. Raise ride height, call it a CUV, and stick a three pointed star logo on it and it’ll sell fine.

  • avatar

    Most US drivers could care less. As long as it has an automatic and is quick they’ll drop their cash on it.

  • avatar

    So why would someone buy this ? In a car like this, the Mercedes name means two things: terrible reliability, and insane repair costs. Why would I pay a premium for that ? I can see why people still buy the E-Class and S-Class (to impress the neighbors) but that doesn’t work with this blob of a car.

  • avatar

    Pity, the B-Class is not at all a bad car. It’s comfortable, safe, fairly luxurious, rides and handles well enough and has more useful room than an S-Class. If I could get past Mercedes’ wretched dealer experience, I’d probably own one.

    Doing a Toyota Echo on the B would result in, honestly, the worst of both worlds: the dynamic problems of a front-driver without the packaging advantages of a “real” hatch. Just offer a small-displacement C-Class sedan instead.

    • 0 avatar
      Gardiner Westbound

      Much that I have read about Canadian Mercedes B-Class cars has been uncomplimentary. Substandard materials and assembly quality, very high cost dealer service.

    • 0 avatar

      Perhaps I just have low standards?

    • 0 avatar

      I drove a B Class last year and while the interior sizing was impressive it was the engine that really let the car down – it’s not one of MB’s best – and options pricing was blatant gouging.

      When they stick in the new 4 banger twin turbo diesel we’ll take another look – oh, and the MB Mississauga dealer needs to drop dead too.

      When we said that we were not interested in a ML500 with pimp wheels or an E500 the salesman could not run away from my wife and I fast enough…

    • 0 avatar
      Acc azda atch

      Did you actually compare the B class 2box car.. to a S Class = 3box sedan.
      Compare the B class to a GLK or a Rover LR4.. not a LARGE E Class sedan.

  • avatar
    Brian E

    No doubt the crossover will be sold on the strength of available AWD (even if it’s just the typical Haldex type).

    I wonder how much regional market concerns play into this. Here in Chicago I rarely see a RWD C-Class, 3-series, G, or IS. It seems that dealers have been quite successful in convincing customers that they need AWD to make it through the winter. This of course means better profits for them, but raises the entry level price especially if the dealer stocks few to no RWD models. Offering a small FWD model could be an antidote to this.

  • avatar

    Sounds like Mercedes is basically planning to build something like the Volvo S40 and C30.

  • avatar

    I guess the question I will ask is thus: what would you have to do to NOT make a FWD C-Class sell?

    Maybe they need bigger hood ornaments.

  • avatar

    Out of the 4 people in my office who own Bimmers and Mercs, absolutely non of them had any idea whether their cars were FWD or RWD. They weren’t interested in which wheels did what, they just wanted to be seen in a Bimmer or Merc.

  • avatar

    Lexus ES is FWD, Lexus IS is RWD, and they sell almost exactly the same numbers between themselves. It’s not like anyone cares really.

  • avatar
    1600 MKII

    What a friggin shame. Back in 2006 I had planned to get a B Class, despite the fact I couldn’t get a diesel here. M-B had announced a June 06 unveiling of it.
    I had been averaging 50 mpg in Italy in an A Class Luxury and loved that car.
    I don’t understand their thinking. The B Class is the proper size for the R Class styling.
    Guess I’m just that 1% idiot who they’re not interested in. I’ll have to stay with my BMWs.

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