The new Mercedes-Benz C-class is almost guaranteed to be a success, says project manager Gunter Walz.
That's because 80 to 85 percent of C-class owners buy another C-class when they decide to change their cars - one of the best owner loyalty rates in the business. And Walz says C-class buyers spend an average of DM75,000 (A38,500), including DM25,000 on options.
'These are beautiful customers when it comes to profitability,' says Walz.
The first job of Walz's development team was to maintain that customer base. But DaimlerChrysler also wanted to attract new customers by making the new C-class a dynamic car that is fun to drive, says Walz.
The development team carried over the rear axle of the old C-class but developed a new front axle and carried out extensive work on the chassis.
Walz says costs were reduced by making sure that last-minute changes were kept to a minimum.
'The major costs come at the end,' says Walz. 'Design freeze was 29 months before start of production - both the exterior and the interior. There were no significant modifications after that.'
Walz's team also minimized changes by carefully managing the introduction of engineering innovations. The team looked at what innovations were ready, or nearly ready. The aim was to prevent problems with unproven technology disrupting the C-class's development and launch schedule.
The new C-class has 20 of the innovations first fitted on the 1998 S-class as standard equipment.
'We tried to reach a lot of the targets we achieved with the S-class,' says Walz. 'Why, for example, should the C-class have inferior air conditioning?'
C-class production trials started in April 1999 and Job One was on February 1, 2000. Members of the production team were involved in the development from an early stage.
'We worked together with the purchasing, development and production departments - and with the right suppliers -- so we had more time to test the real equipment,' says Walz.
DaimlerChrysler plans to reach full production of 1,000 cars a day six months after Job One.
The new C-class is more modular than the outgoing model or any other high-volume Mercedes-Benz. Included are front-end, door, cockpit and seat modules. But the modules are assembled in-house rather than outsourced.
Walz says the shift to a front-end module makes the C-class easier to repair, and insurance costs for customers have been reduced as a result.