Mercedes C-Class to debut vital new platform

New rear-drive and AWD platform will underpin at least 10 models, including next E-Class

2014 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Mercedes-Benz has just launched the fourth of the five models based on its front- and all-wheel-drive small-car architecture known as MFA, but this platform’s role will be dwarfed by what’s to come next.

The company’s even more flexible new rear- and all-wheel-drive architecture will underpin more than double this number of models, research and development chief Thomas Weber has revealed.

“The largest and most important architecture in our line-up is Mercedes’ rear-wheel (drive) architecture,” he said at the recent international launch of the GLA compact front-drive and all-wheel-drive crossover in Spain.

“The first vehicle based on our new MRA architecture is the new C-Class,” said Weber, referring to Mercedes’ “completely new designed architecture”.

Some details of MRA – which is much lighter and uses more aluminium – have already been revealed in the lead-up to the global launch of the new C-Class sedan. Weber confirmed MRA will play a huge role in the company’s plans for growth.

“With this architecture, we are able to do much more than 10 different vehicles,” he said.

The MFA architecture, using just one wheelbase, has provided the basis for five different vehicles — the A-Class, B-Class, CLA, just-launched GLA and the so-called CLA Shooting Brake due late this year.

“The new MRA platform is even more flexible because more wheelbases are possible, more the width of the vehicle can be differentiated.”

This completely modular approach will give Mercedes great flexibility and freedom of choice.

“We can do SUVs, we can do coupes, we can do limousines (sedans) and so on,” Weber said. “Maybe we can do vehicles you don’t even know at the moment.”

All models in the current C-Class line-up will have successors, Weber promised, and MRA will also underpin the next-generation E-Class.

This means it will provide the basis for the next C-Class sedan, wagon, Coupe and C-Class-based GLK SUV, as well as E-Class sedan, wagon, Coupe and Cabriolet, plus the successors of the E-Class-based CLS and CLS Shooting Brake. That’s 10 models right there.

New SUVs will take the count even higher. The current ML, which uses a platform at least partly co-developed with Jeep before the collapse of the DaimlerChrysler joint venture, will surely move to MRA for its next generation. Rumoured Mercedes-Benz rivals for BMW’s hideous X6 and X4 would also use it.

While Weber declined to outline the company’s full product plan for the next five years, he did acknowledge that SUVs will make up a higher percentage of sales than at present.

“These types of vehicles, their share will grow. I see at least a potential 40 (percent) and higher.”

While Mercedes is clearly determined to enter every profitable niche the market provides, its reliance on just two core architectures – MFA and MRA – will simplify the task.

“With only two main architectures … 90 percent of the volume is based on in the future.”

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