Mercedes-Benz plans to launch more derivatives of existing vehicles, says Hans-Joachim SchÖpf, head of development for Mercedes-Benz passenger cars and Smart.
"There are no significant gaps between the A and C class, or between the C and E class," said SchÖpf. "But nonetheless, you will definitely see derivatives of our current range of Mercedes cars. This is part of our program to launch 14 new products between 2002 and 2005."
SchÖpf did not give specific details of new derivatives. But he said Mercedes would launch its next-generation SLK roadster next year, as well the high-tech GST crossover vehicle to be built at its US plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Mercedes sold 1,120,000 passenger cars last year. SchÖpf said he expects to achieve a similar total in 2003 in spite of difficult market conditions.
"We are now prepared for a renewed product offensive," he said. "The visions of our partners within the supply chain are essential to satisfy our customers' requirements.
"Mercedes," he added, "pays more attention to innovative suppliers now."
SchÖpf recognized that faulty electronic components have caused quality problems at Mercedes in the past. He said the company is now focusing on identifying potential electronics problems by extensive testing early in a vehicle's development program.
SchÖpf said the four-door version of the Smart -- the ForFour -- would go on sale in Europe in spring 2004. The ForFour shares its New Compact Car platform with Mitsubishi but retains typical Smart design cues such as two-color graphics. DaimlerChrysler owns 37 percent of Mitsubishi.
For diesel engines, SchÖpf said Mercedes is looking forward to further advances in high-tech injection systems.