STUTTGART The new Mercedes-Benz C-class is bigger, sleeker, better equipped and offers more value for money than the old model, said DaimlerChrysler's Jürgen Hubbert.
Speaking at the unveiling of the new car here, Hubbert said it would likely contribute to Daimler-Chrysler profits more quickly than the old model - itself one of the group's main earners.
The new C-class is cheaper to produce 'by a double-digit percentage,' said Hubbert.
The C-class launch is a high point in the 35-year Mercedes career of Hubbert, the 60-year-old board member in charge of Mercedes passenger cars and Smart. The outgoing C-class, which debuted in 1993, was Mercedes' first all-new product produced by Hubbert and his team. He has led the passenger car division since 1989.
But in terms of hardware, the old C-class was too far along in its development program for Hubbert to change everything to his liking. Mercedes used that car to introduce so-called value pricing, in which Mercedes engineers started with a price target and then built the car, instead of building the car, and then figuring out how much to charge.
Retail prices for the new C-class will rise by an average of 3 percent in Germany. But Hubbert said 'equipment adjusted' prices actually were lower, taking into account extra features worth about DM3,650 (A1,850).
In Germany, the C240 starts at about DM52,000, not counting 16 percent value added tax.
Hubbert is forecasting a 10-15 percent increase in sales over the old C-class, which has sold 1.6 million units since its launch in 1993. It replaced the old 190, which debuted in 1982.
Compared with the car it replaces, the new C-class more closely resembles its big sisters, the E-class and S-class.
'We did not intend to make a small S-class, but a big C-class,' said Hubbert, reacting to those observations. The new C-class also shares standard features with the more expensive cars, such as side-curtain airbags and bigger engines, which were either optional or unavailable in the old C-class.
Besides offering more power than the outgoing car, the new generation features more headroom, elbow room, shoulder room and knee room, especially in the rear seat.
'After we started this segment with the 190, there was a lot of feeling that maybe we had stretched the brand too much,' Hubbert said. 'It was expected to add a few ten-thousands of volume, not a lot.'
'The second generation in 1993 was introduced in a situation where we were changing the whole company. This was a critical model for us. It had to be an immediate success. We were in a difficult position in terms of operating profit.'
Hubbert said the new C-class 'gives us a chance to do everything better. It comes as a result of everything that has gone before it: a productivity offensive; closer relationships with suppliers; a reduction in in-house production from an average of more than 50 percent to about 37 percent.
'All in all, after seven or eight years in my business unit, it shows all the successes, all the profits that have come since then.'
The new C-class goes on sale in Europe in May. For the 2002 model year, the C-class will get several big additions, including all-wheel drive, a station wagon and a two-door hatchback/coupe.
The new C-class is vitally important to Mercedes because 'it's one-third of our sales,' said Hubbert. 'It's important for revenues; it's 25 percent of our revenues. And it's more important for the contribution it makes to the results of the business unit and to the whole company.'