The big and little dilemmas facing Mercedes

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BEIJING -- Mercedes-Benz sells extended-length versions of its S-class and E-class sedans in China to give back seat passengers space to stretch out and maybe do some work while riding in one of Beijing's miserable traffic jams.

The Chinese seem to love that extra legroom. So could extended Mercedes sedans be tried in the Unites States, too?

"Maybe," said global product chief Thomas Weber. "An engineer should never say never."

In China, Mercedes has never offered anything but an extended version of the S-class and the lengthened E-class has been a big seller.

But in America, Weber said a buyer who could be tempted by an extra-length E-class would probably just step up to the S-class.

Mercedes is mulling which market -- the United States, Europe or China -- will receive the CLA first.

Meanwhile, Mercedes confirmed the production name of a new small sedan that arrives in the United States next year -- the CLA.

The Concept Style Coupe that debuted here Monday is "very close" to what the CLA will be.

The small, four-door sedan with the fastback, coupe-like body will go on sale in 2013, he said. But as for who gets it first -- the United States, Europe or China -- that is still undecided.

"We are now in intensive discussions about that," Weber said. "It's a question of sequencing."

You can reach Richard Johnson at rjohnson@crain.com.

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