STUTTGART -- Mercedes-Benz will add its electronically controlled 4matic system to the C-, E- and S-class model lines. Mercedes is following a four-wheel-drive strategy that Audi has pursued successfully for more than two decades.
"We recently introduced the 4matic system from the M class and G wagen in our C class and S class," said Hans-Joachim Schöpf, Mercedes-Benz board member in charge of research and development. "It will also again become an option on the new E class from autumn."
"Currently, we have 27 models with four-wheel drive. By the end of this year we'll offer 33 four-wheel-drive versions," he said.
Mercedes' four-wheel-drive choices don't include niche models such as roadsters, coupes and cabriolets, or the A class. But that will change. The current A-class range only has front-wheel drive. But the second-generation A class due next year will include a four-wheel-drive version.
Schöpf said marketing surveys show the popularity of four-wheel-drive models is growing, particularly in high-end segments.
"The trend is toward a growing proportion of four-wheel-drive cars there, and even to manufacturers whose cars all feature this technology," he said.
That was a situation Mercedes had to address urgently. Audi offers its quattro four-wheel-drive as an option on all its model lines and engine types, except the small A2.
"In 2002, one in 10 new-car buyers in the [upper-luxury] segment decided to buy a vehicle with four-wheel drive. In 1999 the share was just 7 percent," Schöpf said.
"In the E-class [medium-luxury] segment, the share has stabilized at just over 10 percent, while in the C-class [lower-luxury] segment it has risen from 4 to 9 percent in the past three years."
Schöpf said the USA is the most important market for four-wheel-drive vehicles. In 1995, the share of four-wheel-drive models among new registrations there was about 13 percent.
"But this has risen to over 27 percent in the past year," he said.
So, Mercedes-Benz is aiming its broader four-wheel-drive offering mainly at the US market, where the company expects at least 20 percent of future total sales to feature four-wheel drive.