Made in Germany, China, and coming soon… USA?
By Gunnar Heinrich
TREATING this story strictly as a hypothetical (and at the moment the original rumor has been refuted) what hay can we make from the notion that Mercedes-Benz might have transferred C-Class production from Germany to these United States?
Well, those not-so-old hens in the blogosphere were all a-twitter following the Stuttgarter Zeitung‘s story alleging that an unnamed official leaked that Daimler’s actively looking at ways to minimize the effect that the strong €uro is having on American sales for their bread ‘n butter entry-level sedan.
If this were Toyota, there wouldn’t be much of story. It would be another economy car made in America for Americans.
Indeed, if you’ve seen the movie Minority Report, you’ll know that Spielberg & Co. crafted a world of made-to-order Lexus dealers in a town near you as tomorrow’s reality. In the minds and hearts of accountants everywhere, it makes good commercial cent$ that Mercedes should build the C-Class Stateside.
But this is Mercedes-Benz, the company of stalwart over-engineered, indestructible, German luxury cars.
And the new C-Class has been pitched as the most indestructible of indestructible Benzes. Have you seen the roll-over accident advert in the States?
Trouble is, the recently expanded US operations which is home to the marque’s SUV range (sans G-Wagen) has also been the chief culprit behind Benz’s decade long backslide down the wrong end of Consumer Reports ratings.
If history is anything to go by, having the C-Class built in Alabama would give added value to the expression – they don’t build ‘em like they used to.
But, let’s play a little bit of Devil’s Advocate.
If we dig a hole to the other side, Mercedes sales are burgeoning in China. The marque is gaining fast ground by establishing a decidedly upmarket presence with well-to-do Chinese customers that have Yuan to burn. But Mercedes-Benz is selling the Chinese C & E-Class cars that are produced in co-op factories in the PRC.
Luxury cars made in China for Chinese.
So, in the end it comes back down to a name (read: brand image) and a (lower) price. To the rest of the world, Chinese manufacturing may have far less cred next to German manufacturing. But that’s not bothering the Chinese buyers who are happy to pocket the savings from a domestically produced car.
When it comes down to brass import tax, Mercedes-Benz is a business and like any good business it’s about maximizing profits.
So would new-to-Mercedes American customers be especially concerned if they learned that their C350 was born southwest of the Mason-Dixon instead of southeast of the Maginot?
Nah. To them, it’d still be a Mercedes.
Even if it wouldn’t really be a Benz.
Them’s fightin’ words.
By Gunnar Heinrich | IMG Daimler
FOLLOWING a decade of decline in build quality and rankings in reliability surveys, Mercedes has exerted effort to link the current model lineup with the company’s golden over-engineered years, two decades ago.
The message has been simple: we get that we cut corners in the recent-past and we’re focusing on bringing our current range in-line with our vaunted vault-like past.
Today, the message was tweaked a little bit.
In a “practical implementation of theoretical discussion” aimed at teasing the old school brand faithful (yours truly), Mercedes engineers posed the question: how would the old , beloved (W201) 190D a.k.a. “Baby Benz” perform if fitted with the current C250 CDI’s 204 hp BLUE EFFICIENCY diesel unit?
Much, much better, insist Daimler’s publicity department.
So they took a 1988 190D in all its boxy, diminutive glory, removed the old 72 hp four banger and shoe-horned the modern engine in its place.
The result? Nought to 60 mph acceleration contracted from 18 seconds to 6.2 seconds, as did fuel consumption: from 7.8 liters of diesel in 100 miles of driving to 4.9 liters.
Incidentally, the C250 CDI manages 5.1 liters in 100 miles. Both mileage sets were measured using current NEDC standards.
The PR volk tut-tutted in response to the results:
“The playing field is by no means level: a Mercedes 190 D is 385 kilograms lighter than a current C 250 CDIBlueEFFICIENCY, for example. In addition to more interior space - the current C-Class model is 16 centimetres longer, and around nine centimetres wider and higher than a 190 - this is due to the high standard of comfort and safety features.”
The text that followed went on to list all the great technological nannies that the old Baby Benz didn’t have and that customers then, “enjoyed nothing like the passive and active safety features to be found in the standard in the current C250.”
So, in otherwords, you’ve really never been better off behind the wheel of a tri-star. Honest.
And the subtle put down of the old in favor of the new continued – the new C-Class offers a 6-speed auto, instead of a 4-Speed; the drag coefficient’s now 0.27 rather than 0.34; plus the new C-Class’ radiator fans run more efficiently.
In response, let’s pose a couple of questions:
In 20 years time – which car has the better chance of still being in service on the road: the tech-light 190D? Or the electronically complex C250 with in-built redundancy featured as standard equipment?
And then, finally, if we were to chart the progress in Mercedes-Benz engineering from a 1963 190D “Fintail” to the W201 190D’s 1983 debut, could we say that the engineering difference between those two eras is truly eclipsed by the progress in the last twenty years – as witnessed in the current C-Class?
Considering that the new C250 boasts a thirty percent reduction in diesel mileage from 1983 to 2009 and uses two extra gears?
C’mon. The Baby Benz wins.
By Gunnar Heinrich
I’M of the mind that Mercedes-Benz is really fighting like hell to be all things to all people.
Which never works. Ever. There’s accommodating and then there’s pandering – and once you pander, you’ve lost your target audience because you’ve managed to lose the plot and their trust in the process.
Mercedes can certainly do athleticism – Stuttgart hath wrought some of the baddest machines on this old block. And, indeed, Mercedes has gotten away with lithe and svelte. Consider the early generations of “Sport Light” otherwise known as the SL-Class – the Pagoda comes to mind. Even the original SLK that debuted in the 90s had a certain sporty, cute charm about its little self.
But the new E-Class coupe, which tries to draw on so many aspects of the 60s, 80s, the CLs and CLKs, Audi, Lexus, and BMW that I’m not sure what to make of it. Is it a 3-Series fighter? Probably not, given its loftier price tag. Will it do the grand tour like a Jaguar XK? Lacks the visual presence. Will it go for broke like the Infiniti G Coupe? Not as stock, it won’t.
Will it put comfort, efficiency of design, stolid but proud character first as in the W124 generation coupes and cabrios? For all the marketing associations, I don’t see that sense of purpose here.
Given that every styling gimmick has been thrown in – googley eyed four headlamp unit housing with projector beams, LED accent lights in the lower air intakes, flared wheel well arches, charred sheetmetal a.k.a. “flame surface design”, multiple sill lines, and two panes of glass for both sets of rear windows – and that’s just the outside.
On the inside, we’ve got a C-Class interior, replete with three spoke sport wheel and low-rent instrumentation that’s meant to harken back to the original Baby Benz or 190E – a car that skimped on more than a few luxuries – and, perplexingly, fixed rear headrests à la Toyota and Honda circa 1985.
Really… what does this car want to be when it grows up?
By: Christopher P. Davis | IMG by
BMW’s E30 generation 3-Series line entered production in 1981. The last E30 rolled off the assembly line in 1994. The longevity of the model is a true testament to what BMW does best – Produce Racing Inspired Luxury Automobiles with classic styling.
While in recent times, some would argue that BMW has deviated from this model; in the 1980’s they built the model.
The E30 Chassis supported four models (5 if you include the Baur Convertible), a sedan, coupe, estate/ station wagon, and a convertible. From 1988-1991 in the US the first “M3” was available.
When I look at the E30 range now, it a appears rather dated.
However, when you compare it to BMW’s current models, you can see a definitive pedigree in those circular headlamps and that kidney grille.
EVOLUTION NOT REVOLUTION
For the most part, the styling of the 3-Series range has remained evolutionary. I personally appreciate the fact that if you look at a 2008 BMW 3 and a 1988 BMW 3, you can tell that they are both BMW’s – a feat that many marques have not been able to achieve.
BMW sold close to 2.4 Million E30 Series cars in 13 years; roughly the same number of cars that Munich sold in the two succeeding incarnations – combined.
Building upon the successes, and almost cult-like fervor around models like the 2002tii and the 2000CS, the introduction of the M3 was the start of the “M” brand within BMW.
The full M series has without a doubt led to BMW’s even greater successes as it entered the 90’s and the 21st century.
The original BMW E30 M3 had achieved great notoriety before it even hit the showroom floors.
The racing version of the M3 had many successes in DTM, Rally, and Australian Touring Car races among others. The E30 M3 is considered by many to be the premier rally car of all time, racking up more wins than any other car.
In North America BMW only engineered 195 Horses under the hood, In Europe however, 215 were released (This due to all those pesky US rules and regs). BMW equipped the M3 with a stiffer frame and more aerodynamic and larger fenders.
BMW borrowed front brake calipers and wheel bearings from the 5 -Series of the time. The M engineers increased the Caster Angle of the M3 to allow for superior handling characteristics.
At present, BMW makes an almost identical lineup in its 3 Series (With the addition of an M Coupe and Convertible). The E30 is part of that success more than say Benz’s 190E is part of the current C-Class’ appeal.
With high build quality and the loyalty the cars instilled in their owners, the E30 allowed BMW to gain the ardently devoted and loyal customer base that more than endures, it thrives.
By Christopher P. Davis
IN a perfect world, the elves from the Black Forest pictured a three-car garage.
In it sat a 560SEL – which would propel you to your daily slayings in the corporate world – to the right, a 560SL – for open-top boulevard cruising and of course the occasional weekend picnic – and, finally, the 560SEC.
Sporty yet refined. Classic yet modern. Sadly, one of Benz’s best is now just some forgotten coupe. Perfect for a night at the opera, and maybe a Friday car, like the current CL-Class, the SEC was an expensive, low volume choice. So much so, the “E” is SEC should have stood for “exclusive.”
Arriving in an S-Class coupe, you made a statement, frankly, that money was no object and that practicality was for “the little people.” Sure, for a little less money (the coupe’s MSRP was north of $70,000) you could have a 560SEL and two more doors, but who bothered to count? You had accountants for that.
Confronted by a 560SEC, there’s little room to doubt that it is a true Mercedes-Benz. The Tri-Star logo, representing land, air, and sea is prominently featured, much in the way it currently is on the CL and on the new C-Class Sport.
The star has an angular front, which through former Benz Design Chief Bruno Sacco’s genius avoids being overtly “sporty” or ostentatious. Simply told, it’s the embodiment of the balanced design ethic that was part of every model Mercedes produced in the 80s.
On the headlamps rest diminutive wiper blades, a feature that I always thought to be rather cool and somewhat practical, but overall, just plain cool. On top of the hood where a star ornament would usually stand, is a larger blue-white star and laurel roundel that’s featured on nearly every Mercedes two-door.
From the side, your eye sweeps across the car, as the design is completely fluid, there is no rough spot, just one beautiful automobile. The 560 SEC is a pillarless coupe, a fact that greatly enhances that sweep.
In a December 2006 edition of British Mercedes-Benz magazine Mercedes Enthusiast, Bruno Sacco was reported to have recently acquired, as the writer put it, “(A) low mileage 560SEC in Anthracite with black leather and burr walnut. ‘It is now almost perfect,’ he murmured, eyes twinkling.”
From the rear, the 560SEC is very similar to any other W126. The only difference between the rear of sedan is that the coupe sports a slightly larger rear windscreen.
On the interior, a 560SEC has all the sharp fit and finish of its four door sibling.
One novel feature is a seat belt presenter – a think black plastic arm that extends the belt out for you from a chrome ringed cavity beneath the rear window sill. Although novel in the 80s, it’s a feature that time has shown to be just a tad temperamental.
Between the back seats of the SEC was a beautiful burled wood retractable console. Similar to that found on current CL-Class models, although on the 560SEC it is much larger; the amount of burled wood is stunning!
The 560SEC is a big car by any measure. It weighs in at over 3960 pounds and covers just over 199.2 inches of asphalt stem to stern.
In today’s world of Prius’ (or is it Prii?) the 560SEC is a throwback to a bygone era – the decadence of the 80’s.
Owning one today is as much a statement as it was then. It denotes success, style, intelligence, and class. It’s a designer tank, engineered unlike any other car in the world and styled to please even the most fashion conscious.
“Luxury cars” abound, but 560SECs do not – with only 28,929 of these beauties made. What’s more, a well cared-for example will mechanically stand the test of time at least as well as its classic good looks.
The 560SEC is the perfect coupe to complete anyone’s garage.
[Images: 1986 Brochure by Mercedes-Benz of North America, Inc.]
*Note* An avid reader since early 2007, Mr. Davis is a new contributor to Automobiles De Luxe.
By Gunnar Heinrich
ACCORDING to Toyota (and they should know), in the year 2007 the Japanese automaker’s Lexus division sold 329,177 units to Americans; marking their twelfth consecutive year of market growth.
Mercedes-Benz, by contrast, sold 253,433 cars to US car buyers; marking the Germans’ fourteenth consecutive year of growth.
Lexus currently offers nine model series if you count the F-Series IS sedan and omit the hybrid variants of the LS, GS, and RX models.
Mercedes offers thirteen model series if you include AMG as its own line.
Counting out possible model permutations from each, the Germans offer more than twice the number of choices than the Japanese. And yet, Lexus sold seventy-five thousand more units in the US than did Mercedes-Benz.
By Gunnar Heinrich
MARKETING people can take “brands” in strange places. Maybe that’s because marketing people are weird, quirky types with time on their hands to dream up ideas that they think will register with people and prompt them to buy! buy! buy!
Or maybe it’s just me.
Either way, the UK microsite for Mercedes-Benz’s C-Class is strange. strange. strange.
On the zero to 10 scale of mental manipulation, the Brit team working on behalf of ze Germans has achieved an 11.
Visit the site here.
What first greets you is the soft din of spacey, trance music. A rainbow of circles (visit the site I’m not making this up!) appears with an instruction to pick a colour which will represent your psychological moods. Blue for simplicity, red for energy, purple for confidence, and so on.
Picking yellow (for “space”).
Another prompter arises asking you “how do you want to feel? drag the two dials to find out.” And so you do and like the tunning of an old fashioned radio, different and sharp sounds occur as the orb shape shifts and changes colors.
Though, I imagine if you were on a controlled or uncontrolled substance this site would prove to be a most engaging experience.
Still, you never actually learn about the new (W204) generation entry level luxury sedan in Mercedes’ lineup from the microsite. Other than insisting that new C-Class equates to “Serene Agility,” the site tells you little about the car. It’s all been a psychological experiment.
Only upon clicking “find out more” are we transferred to the actual Mercedes-Benz UK site to learn about ancillary details like price and specification. Which begs the question why bother visiting the microsite at all?
If there’s any credit to be given this psychological-test-come-advertisement it’s that it has us focusing on Mercedes-Benz. And their crazy marketing people.
Considering most economy cars, the Mercedes-Benz C180 Kompressor ain’t bad. To behold, it’s actually attractive.
The W203’s amoeba headlamped body post refit is especially cheerful . The seven spoked, 16” wheels suggest a sporting nature to an otherwise average performer.
The lower front airdam stretches aft as if a designer took two index fingers on either side of the car’s mouth and pulled backward to create a wallet-opening smile.
And wallets did open for Stuttgart’s last generation C-Class.
Unfortunately, like those few Stateside who actually “bought” the C230 Kompressor hatchback, I fear that the badge conscious were taken for a ride; myself included.
Using “economy” is deliberate wordage that’s more a reference to apparent quality and less a price point statement. The relatively costly C-Class ranks as a standard European economy sedan – even when CLASSIC-ally packaged with traditional leather interior.
AMG’s C32 stood as the sole standout; the merits of its Wagnerian V8 ringing loud and clear.
Against the roomier and comfier Ford Mondeo, Saab 9-3, or VW Passat, the benefits of buying Mercedes aside from the cachet of sitting behind the star (mostly hidden from driver’s view) were dubious. Considering the W203 as a horizontally priced alternative to an E46 BMW 3-Series made less sense than navigating an Escher lithograph.
There’s just no comparison. The Bimmer was by far the superior auto by every conceivable merit. What’s more the 3 delivered on quality and value for money.
From London, I’d rather walk to Oxford than drive a Peugeot or Renault.
Few cars outside the European market give you a stronger audible sensation that you’re dragging a large piece of undercarriage beneath you. At any moment what you’re positive is loose trim will surely give way causing following cars to dart and swerve.
Of course nothing’s loose. In fact, what you suffer and dread is simply a lack of road insulation (and bother).
Regrettably this trait is shared by other European makes that populate most rental parking lots.
So when borrowing a set of wheels, as yours truly did this week past, the clear choice that winked at me from a lot of generics was the late model C180 Kompressor.
Surely, if memory served, this little Benz would provide comfy if somewhat cramped transport and be well insulated from the bruit that drivers suffer at the hands of the French.
NON AND NEIN.
Sit in the C180 and you’re greeted with decidedly repressed surroundings.
There’s forced emotion in the tucked curves of the dash and the fluidly rolling waterfall that’s the center console. All that undulation is constrained by boxy door frames. To temper things further is a prodigious use of the color graphite. Coal would provide more character.
The auburn color of the glossy burl trim that adorns doors and console does little to help matters as I’m convinced it’s carved from the plastic tree.
Looking out the windshield over a very slanted hood, I reckon the electric neon blue finish on the outside is meant to make up for the subdued interior.
Take the plastic pseudo laser key, insert into ignition, quick twist and leggo.
The 2.0 liter straight, supercharged four banger jiggers crudely to life. I might pause to ask why the model’s called “180” if the engine sports .2 more liters than its name suggests, but there’s more to pick at.
Confusingly, the front seats are both manually and electrically adjustable. There’s no moonroof to offer us vertical reprieve from drab graphite. And because we’re in Britain during the dark days of winter, I guess there’s little point in having one.
Shift the leather wrapped gear selector back and it finds its way to Drive in a buttery motion that’s foreign to anyone at home with the old slotted Benz shift gates of yore. To its credit, the setup’s comfy in a generic, Chrysler sort of way.
Driving briskly through traffic, I skirt the fringes of Communist surveillance and taxation otherwise known as London’s Congestion Zone to find my way onto the A40 due West Northwest.
And as the road finally opens, a new sedan emerges.
— Part II tomorrow @ 12:00 EST *amended
According to The Motor Report, not since Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach scooted around on a tipsy trike, has Mercedes ever sold more cars – 1.185 million- than the marque did in the year 2007.
This sales victory runs in the face of the high cost of oil, stiff competition from Teutonic rivals, and a general slump in North American sales.
But the real story behind all this glory is not the 2% increase in sales over the preceding record breaking year. No, it’s the tale of hard fought battles, the insurrection of evil laxity, and all things that do not pertain to the cheap tea in China but the quality coffee in America.
HEARTS & MINDS
The new C-Class has won hearts and minds and (just important to corporate) sales by returning to the tradition of over-engineered autos.
With marketing to match Mercedes’ most exhaustive testing and design efforts, such is the excitement that never since the original Baby Benz (190E) has there been a compact sedan from Mercedes-Benz that has generated such enthusiasm by the car buying public for a compact sedan from Mercedes-Benz.
The last C-Class sedan was quite forgettable.
But so that we do not forget just how lame, lame can be, we’ll re-approach the W203 tomorrow.
– next update 09:00 EST * note * delay today due to technical setbacks now overcome. apologies.