NEW YORK -- Mercedes-Benz will launch four compact vehicles in the United States in the next three years with starting prices of $30,000 or below.
The vehicles will include a production version of the A-class coupe concept shown last week at the New York auto show. Three variants of Mercedes' new-generation compact family also are headed for the United States.
Insiders say the three other cars are:
1. A small van that will likely be offered as an electric vehicle.
2. A small sedan to be called the CLC.
3. A small crossover to be called the GLC.
Mercedes-Benz initially decided not to bring the A class here. The decision was reversed several months ago after marketing boss Steve Cannon and a product committee that included dealers saw early versions of the new compact line.
The deciding factor was how different the new-generation A class is from the current A class sold in Europe, said Ernst Lieb, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA.
"The A class has a very European design, and they are doing well with it," he said. "But for North America, it just didn't appeal to the customer. This car does."
The new small cars are expected to drive growth in the United States. Currently, the lowest-priced Mercedes is the C class, which starts at $34,865, including freight.
"There is huge potential for us there," Lieb said.
The new vehicles will come standard with many safety features Mercedes has on its larger cars, including adaptive cruise control, traction control and the Pre-Safe safety system that adjusts seat belts and head restraints when the car senses an impending crash.
"If we leave that segment for our competitors, they become stronger and they branch out and give us resistance in those segments," Lieb said. "The time is overdue."
Lieb is also convinced that even luxury buyers will shift to smaller vehicles. The initial response to the A-class concept in New York was overwhelmingly positive, he said.
"There is clearly an opportunity if we do everything right," he said.
Together with its dealer council, Mercedes is developing processes for selling the small vehicles. Lieb said dealers who have completed the brand's Autohaus facility improvement program and follow the new processes will get an extra percentage point in the dealer discount margin beginning next year.