Back during the 1980s when Mercedes introduced its first “baby” Mercedes, the car was received with mixed reviews. Motorists loved the car, now a “C” series model, as it made a Mercedes automobile affordable for the middle class. On the other hand, critics worried that the esteemed Mercedes-Benz name would suffer as a car touching the price level of many ordinary American models would soon become part of the line up. Today, even smaller Mercedes are planned for the US market. Will this be a huge mistake for the German automaker or is Mercedes incorporating smart thinking?
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To the surprise of many Americans, the Mercedes brand isn’t as pompous or pretentious in Europe as it is in the U.S. Crafty Mercedes-Benz marketing over the years has presented an image of Mercedes as being an ultra-luxury automobile line, a truly superb benchmark from which all other cars are measured. In some respects this image is true, but in reality Mercedes goes well beyond such a narrow definition.
In the European market, Mercedes is known for producing these same high quality luxury cars, but also for producing vehicles that are much more attainable for the masses. Even right now Mercedes sells four models in Europe that are uncharacteristically Mercedes type vehicles, at least for the American market:
Viano – A minivan of sorts, the vehicle can hold as many as eight people and is powered by either a pair of inline four cylinder engines or a 3.5L I6.
Vaneo – A compact van with seating for as many as seven adults. The Vaneo features a sloping roof that quickly drops off to a rear hatch. Powered by 1.6L or 1.9L I4 gasoline engines or a 1.7L diesel.
B Series – Mercedes’ answer to the Volkswagen Golf is its own “B” Series of automobiles. This five door hatchback, which also looks a lot like a Toyota Matrix, comes with six engine choices: four gas engines starting with a 1.5L I4 up to a 2.0L turbocharged four, and two diesels.
A Series – Even smaller than the “B” Series is the “A” Series, three or five door hatchback models about the size of a Toyota Echo. That’s right, a teeny tiny Mercedes! The same six engines offered with the “B” Series are offered in the “A” Series plus one additional diesel for a total of seven engine choices!
Prices for the “A” Series starts around $23,000 when current British to American currency exchange figures are factored in to nearly $29,500 for the “B” Series. The Vaneo and Viano would sell at around $25,550 and $39,800 respectively if today’s European prices were carried over to the U.S.
So, what does Mercedes have in mind? They are hoping to introduce the “B” Series to the U.S. market by 2007. Is this a wise decision? In my opinion it has worked well in Europe, however it would be better for Mercedes to create a new make of cars to include the “B” Series. Much like Toyota has spun off both Lexus and Scion, Mercedes would be better served by creating a separate “down market” brand in order to uphold the Mercedes name.
No, there isn’t anything shameful about any of these small vehicles – in fact, they are a wise idea – however, decades of marketing in the U.S. can certainly be undone overnight by the introduction of any vehicle smaller than the “C” Series to the Mercedes line up. No car as small as the “B” Series would wear a Lexus nameplate, so why should a car of this type wear the Mercedes moniker?
As I said, this is just my opinion. What are your thoughts?