Speaker: Joachim Schmidt
Title: Member of the board for passenger cars Mercedes-Benz, Smart; head of sales and marketing, DaimlerChrysler AG
Theme: The Mercedes-Benz A-class and the four-seat Smart can live together
The Mercedes-Benz A-class faces profitability problems but a successor will be developed and produced, said Joachim Schmidt, board member of DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes-Benz and Smart passenger-car division.
Schmidt was responding to a report in Automotive News Europe that cast doubt on the future of the 'baby Benz.'
Company sources said that concerns about the current A-class' profitability and its future role in the group's small-car strategy meant that plans for a successor could be scrapped.
Sources said Smart could become DCX's small-car brand across several market segments, including that covered by the A-class.
But Schmidt, speaking at the Automotive News Europe Congress, said: ÒWe will develop the next generation A-class into a whole family of cars, like we did with the C-class.
'I can't say what these versions will be, and I can't promise a cabrio or a 4x4,' he said. 'But we will definitely offer more than just one model with a short and a long wheelbase.'
The current A-class range will be joined in spring 2001 by a new A-XL version. At 3775mm, it is 200mm longer than the current model. The A-XL offers more legroom for the rear passengers and more luggage space.
Schmidt wouldn't say directly whether the current A-class is profitable but he said the next one should be.
'We are sure we can improve on this aspect,' he said.
'This time we are not starting from the beginning. We can build on our experience with the current A-class. And we will try harder.'
DaimlerChrysler will focus on lowering the costs of model development and production with the next A-class. A supplier executive at the Automotive News Europe Congress said that DaimlerChrysler is pushing for up to 30 percent cost reductions in components for the next-generation A-class.
Schmidt said the concept of the car would remain unchanged, using a sandwich-floor construction that will also provide the space for a fuel-cell power unit.
The future four-seat, four-door Smart is being developed on a Mitsubishi platform and will be built at the NedCar factory in Born, the Netherlands, together with a compact Mitsubishi model. DaimlerChrysler acquired a 34 percent stake in Mitsubishi Motors in April.
'We will clearly differentiate the four-seat Smart and the next-generation A-class,' said Schmidt. 'The two cars follow totally different concepts and they will appeal to completely different customer groups.'