Plans for a compact front-wheel-drive roadster are back on the drawing board at Mercedes. The move follows a recent new model review that called for greater emphasis on affordable and fuel-efficient cars - to attract younger buyers and help satisfy the EU’s newly mandated CO2 regulations.
Mercedes boss Dieter Zetsche is weighing up a plan for a two-seat roadster, a proposal that revives the idea behind the striking Mercedes Vision SLA concept, revealed at the Detroit motor show in 2000.
The proposal is based on modified underpinnings from the third-generation 2011 Mercedes A-class - itself set to abandon today’s complex sandwich platform structure in favour of a more conventional floorpan.
No official decision on the lower-priced Mercedes roadster has been taken. However, the realities of the worldwide financial crisis are making their presence felt at Mercedes and officials feel the time is right for a small roadster.
The Mercedes SLA would join the German firm’s growing stable of small cars and slot in below the strong-selling SLK.
One decision facing Mercedes board members is whether to badge the new car as a Mercedes or incorporate it into an expanded Smart line-up. It could be sold as a replacement for the Smart Roadster alongside a possible four-seat successor to the aborted ForFour, a car that is also set to use future A-class underpinnings.
A senior Mercedes official told Autocar: “It is part of the regular new model review at Mercedes-Benz to look at ideas from the past. When the SLA was originally proposed, we didn’t have a suitable platform; the sandwich platform is too high and too heavy. This problem will be alleviated with the arrival of the next A-class, whose new platform provides much greater scope in the sort of variants it can support.”
Mercedes is already investing heavily in the new A-class. As well as spending €600 million (£521m) to revamp existing production facilities in Rastatt, Germany, it has also announced that it will build a new €800 million (£695m) production plant in Kecskemet, Hungary. Between them, the two plants are expected to have an overall annual capacity of up to 500,000 cars.
Autocar first revealed plans for new coupe and hatchback versions of the A-class earlier this year. Joining them from 2012 will be a follow-up to the B-class and a junior off-roader. By adding a roadster to the mix, Mercedes would have a full line-up of affordable front-drive models.
Mercedes’ decision to revisit the SLA comes hot on the heels of an announcement that VW is planning to reveal a new mid-engined roadster concept at next month’s Detroit motor show. It follows news that BMW is pushing ahead with a 1-series-based Z2 roadster to slot beneath the Z4 in its line-up.