NICE, France - Mercedes-Benz brags that its all-new CL coupe is 'the most technologically advanced vehicle in the world.'
The company invested extra in the new coupe to try out new technology and to set the coupe apart from the S-class sedan, on which it is based. The all-new S class made its U.S. debut last spring as an early 2000 model.
Mercedes-Benz USA Inc. will offer the V-8 CL500 starting in December as a late 2000 model. The CL600, which will share a V-12 engine with the 2001 S600 sedan, reaches the U.S. market next fall for the 2001 model year. An extra-high-performance CL55, modified by Mercedes-AMG GmbH, is also in the works, at least one model year away.
Like the models they replace, the CL and the S class still share the floor panel, most of the electrical system, instruments and most of the climate-control system, said Wolf-Dieter Kurz, project director for the CL.
The CL gets the four-headlight look of the E class and the CLK, instead of S class 'wrap-around' headlights. But the differences are more than skin deep, and more than two doors instead of four, Kurz said.
Under the skin, the CL gets lightweight construction. Compared with the nearly all-steel S class, the CL uses more aluminum and magnesium, and the first plastic body panels on a U.S. model, for the trunk lid and front fenders, Kurz said. (The tiny A class has plastic body panels, but it is not sold in the United States.) The new CL500 weighs 647 pounds less than the model it replaces.
Besides saving weight, using plastic also allowed Mercedes to sandwich antennas for the radio, telephone and navigation system within the two-layer trunk lid, Kurz said. Steel would have blocked the antennas, he said.
CL BUILT SEPARATELY
The CL also gets its own assembly line at the main plant in Sindelfingen, Germany, in a building that was used for pilot production of new models. The separate line cost a total of around $192 million for buildings and equipment, the company said. The old S class coupe was built on the same line as the sedan.
Juergen Hubbert, DaimlerChrysler board of management member responsible for Mercedes-Benz and Smart passenger cars, said he thought twice before spending the extra money on the CL.
'I must admit, I have not always had a positive feeling for this segment,' he said.
'We tried to economize (in the past), and more often than not, we got less car for more money,' he said at a press introduction here.
MORE FOR THE MONEY
According to Hubbert, this time around Mercedes offers more car for less money. The new CL500 has a suggested retail price of $86,095, $6,400 less than the model it replaces. Taking into account the retail price of features that were optional or not available on the old model (but standard on the new model), Mercedes says the new CL500 is $14,400 less expensive than the old one.
Pricing was not announced for the 2001 CL600. If Mercedes sticks to the same strategy, it will be below the 1999 CL600, which had a sticker of $137,895. The U.S. lineup will skip the 2000 model year for the CL600.
EARNING ITS KEEP
Mercedes expects a return on its investment. Worldwide CL sales are expected to more than double over the seven-year life of the new model, to a total of more than 50,000 units.
Hans-Joachim Schoepf, senior vice president and head of Mercedes-Benz development, said that in the long run, building the CL on a separate line is more efficient, since adding the more labor-intensive CL to the S-class line would slow S-class production.
'It comes down to volume. It's 350 per day for the S class, vs. 30 to 50 for the CL,' Schoepf said.
Mercedes-Benz USA expects to sell 2,500 CLs in 2000, and 3,000 in 2001, vs. only just 40 this year, in a shortened 1999 model year. Not counting this year, the U.S. subsidiary averaged about 1,200 S-class coupes a year, since the old model was introduced in 1993. The old S500 and S600 coupes were rebadged CL500 and CL600 for the 1998 model year.
Further justifying the expense, high-tech 'firsts' for Mercedes on the CL will work their way to other high-priced models, starting with the 2001 S class.
Those features include the lightweight construction; so-called Active Body Control, an active-type, hydraulic suspension that keeps the body flat around curves; and optional 'intelligent' cruise control, which Mercedes calls Distronic.
Within a limit of 20 percent of the selected speed, Distronic applies the brakes to maintain following distance, or accelerates back up to the selected speed if the distance increases. It uses radar to measure the distance.
If higher volumes can bring the per-unit cost down, some of the CL's gee-whiz features could work their way to even less expensive models, such as the high end of the E class.
'The people who buy these kind of cars (like the CL) finance innovation,' Hubbert said.
He insisted that the CL is not just a 'halo' car: 'This is really a car that will put a lot of money in our pockets.'