Mercedes will introduce at least one small car to the U.S. in 2012, doing a 180 on a past decision to stick to larger vehicles in order to enforce the brand's high-end image. The news comes directly from CEO Dr. Dieter Zetsche, in an interview in the Wall Street Journal. The car would compete with vehicles like the BMW 1 Series, Audi A3, Volvo C30 and MINI Cooper – as well as a possible compact luxury vehicle from Lexus based on the LF-Ch concept.
Analysts have suggested the move is the result of lessons learned from the recent economic downturn, with sales of larger luxury vehicles and SUVs taking a significant hit, while the share of the market made up by compact and subcompact vehicles has grown. The introduction of a smaller and more fuel efficient model in the Mercedes lineup in the U.S. would also help the manufacturer meet increasingly strict CAFE regulations.
In the past Mercedes had decided to introduce the B-Class to the U.S. market but canceled plans when an unfavorable Euro-to-dollar exchange rate made the car's business plan unsound. (The B-Class was, however, introduced in Canada, where vehicles are sold for significantly more).
The new Mercedes small car will be based on an all new platform that Mercedes says is much cheaper to manufacture, making the Euro-to-dollar exchange rate less of a factor. It is not yet known if the car will follow in the B-Class's layout of being a premium-people mover or if Mercedes will opt to build a more sporty offering to better compete with cars like the 1 Series or MINI Cooper.
Over the past two years, Mercedes has introduced three concepts based on the B-Class architecture, including a hydrogen fuel-cell concept, a hybrid concept and an electric car concept. It's likely that the future Mercedes small car platform will bring one of more of these concept car technologies into production.
More: Report: Mercedes Bringing Small Car to U.S. in 2012