BRUSSELS - The Mercedes-Benz A class should be attractive in the United States. It is small but roomy. It has outstanding safety for its size. A new diesel with ultra-low emissions would satisfy California standards.
But with an entry price of about 31,000 marks in Germany, or $18,000, the Mercedes-Benz subcompact may be too expensive for the U.S. market, where size still dictates price, Daimler-Benz AG executives said as the car was unveiled here last week.
Still, the idea is not dead. 'We're looking at it month by month,' said Juergen Hubbert, head of Daimler's car division.
North American marketing executives liked the car when they saw it last month at the grand opening of the M-class factory in Vance, Ala.
Daimler may develop U.S. versions of the A class. It could trim equipment to bring the price down or make an ultra-low-emissions vehicle to satisfy California requirements.
180,000 SALES EXPECTED IN 1998
Daimler is confident it can sell in Europe and Asia all 180,000 cars planned for 1998. The cars are built in Rastatt, Germany.
Daimler calls the Volkswagen Golf its main competitor, even though the A class is touted as a premium car in a small segment. A new Golf will be introduced in fall.
With a colorful interior, indentations, curves and storage niches reminiscent of the Renault Twingo and Ford Ka small cars, the A class strives to show a new Mercedes-Benz, executives said.
A German journalist likened the shocking green interior of an A-class Elegance version to bubble gum.
The A class has a tall van-like exterior that strives to move away from the one-box look. It weighs only 2,200 pounds. At 140 inches long, the car is at least 20 inches shorter than a traditional subcompact. It seats four.
The A class is offered in 23 color combinations. Dual front airbags, side airbags and belt tensioners are standard. Standard equipment on the A-class Classic includes antilock brakes and power steering.
A sandwich design and double-layer floor puts the engine and drive assembly under the body. The A class meets future European Union and current U.S. crash standards. Because of its design, the driver sits about eight inches higher than in the traditional car.
Four new four-cylinder engines power the A class, ranging from 60 to 102 hp. At introduction, two gasoline engines will be available: a 1.4-liter and a 1.6-liter. Next year, two 1.7-liter turbodiesels will be offered.
Arndt Peters, head of injection and emissions technology for Daimler, said the diesels will have 15 percent better fuel economy and 20 percent lower emissions and will be clean enough for California.