The Mercedes C-Class is entering the home stretch of its product life in 2004, but DaimerChrysler SA intends to achieve 18 000 Benz sales by year-end. The Smart ForFour and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII are also in the pipeline. CARtoday.com quizzed DCSA officials about the company’s plans for its various brands.

The Mercedes C-Class is entering the home stretch of its product life in 2004, but DaimerChrysler SA intends to achieve 18 000 Benz sales by year-end.


The East London-based manufacturer recently unveiled a new-entry level 1,8-litre powered E200 Kompressor for the E-Class range and, according to DCSA group media manager Deon Ebersohn, a cheaper, manual transmission derivative of the model is being considered for the South African market.


“There is usually a price difference of R11 000 between manual and automatic models,” Ebersohn said. “The performance characteristics of the kompressor engine would be well suited to a manual shift and make the E200 more of a driver’s car”.


Of greater significance, perhaps, is that the four-year-old C-Class has received cosmetic updates, new technology and added features. Facelifted C-Class models should start rolling off DCSA’s East London assembly line by middle of March and be launched to the public in May.


As CARtoday.com reported recently, the most noticeable cosmetic alteration to the car's exterior is a newly-designed front bumper, featuring a prominent lower air intake and new radiator grille which now has three louvres. The louvres are either painted or feature a more dynamic design, depending on the model. The Classic and Elegance models will be equipped with sportier side skirts and the rear bumper from the Avantgarde model.


Meanwhile, orders are said to be streaming in from around the world for the new SLK ahead of its launch at next month’s Geneva Motor show. The SLK 200 K will be available in South Africa in July, the SLK 350 (complete with a new engine) in September and the SLK 55 AMG in November, CARtoday.com was told.


As for other models, there was an eight-month waiting list for the CLK Cabriolet, but no possibility of the SL range being extended with the SL 350 model – “There is no reason to dilute the line-up”, Ebersohn said. And what about the 450 kW twin-turbo V12-powered CL65 AMG? Its local introduction would depend on if and when the car was produced in right-hand drive form, he added.


Mercedes-Benz’s four-door "coupé", named the CLS, will also go into production in the near future. Observers had expected to see a sports derivative of the E-Class ever since the executive saloon range was launched and the CLS should appeal equally to sports saloon buyers and traditional coupé owners.


DCSA board member for sales and marketing Fritz van Olst said on Thursday the company was strongly considering the CLS for the local market.


As for Smart, Van Olst revealed that the recently-launched Smart City Coupé and City Cabrio would be renamed ForTwo Coupé and ForTwo Cabrio this year and that there would be Smart Roadster and Smart Roadster Coupé product roadshow across the country during March and April.


The five-door Forfour, developed jointly with the new Mitsubishi Colt, is built at DaimlerChrysler's plant in the Netherlands and will be available in South Africa by December.


At 3,75 m, the Forfour is slightly longer than the Mercedes A-Class and able to seat four adults.


The surface of the chassis cell serves as an outer skin in the area of the A and C-pillars, the roof pillars and door sills. The front, rear, wings and doors are clad with deformable, scratch-resistant plastic panels and the front has high-mounted headlamps and features air inlets and service grilles.


Will the ForFour help DCSA to establish a foothold in the competitive B-Segment of the new car market?


“It may attract some buyers in the top end of the B-Segment market,” Van Olst said, “but its strongest selling point is its exclusivity. It appeals to a strongly-individualistic premium buyer, who already has one or two Mercedes-Benzes or other local luxury cars parked in his or her driveway, for example”.


“Smart is a very important part of the DaimlerChrysler group of products,” he added, “but our ultimate aim is not to achieve huge volume sales with the brand, therefore its models are not priced to be competitive, but to be exclusive”.


The Jeep and Chrysler division of DCSA intends to raise its sales from 6460 to 7050 in 2004 by virtue of the PT Classic, launched last month, and the introduction of a convertible edition of its Crossfire coupé.


The Mitsubishi division of DCSA, which is headed by Sascha Gaede, will launch an extensive range of models, culminating in the introduction of the Lancer Evo VIII in the last quarter of 2004.


The Evo VIII churns out 202 kW and 370 N.m of torque from the turbocharged two-litre in-line four cylinder engine and the car is claimed to accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in 5,3 seconds and hit a limited top speed of 250 km/h.


The new car features a suspension that is slightly lower-sprung than that of the Evo VII, revised active centre differential (ACD), rear limited-slip differential and active yaw control system. New additions include a huge air intake for the intercooler, new front driving lights, a large carbonate rear spoiler, new rear light clusters and new 17-inch alloy wheels.


A three-nozzle intercooler jet system sprays water on to the front of the intercooler to help cool the compressed air and provide more power under hard acceleration. The cabin has Recaro seats, a Momo steering wheel and automatic air conditioning.


In addition, the Pajero GLS will get a new interior from next month, with the 3,2 Tdi GLX update following in July. Next month will also see the introduction of a service plan (3 years/60 000km) for all Mitsubishi Colt Rodeo and ClubCabs and a maintenance plan (3 years/60 000km) for all Mitsubishi Outlanders and Lancers.


How secure is the Lancer’s future? Mitsubishi recently appeared set to reduce its saloon line-up from three models to two and shift resources to MPVs and SUVs. The saloon segment is one of the weakest areas for the Mitsubishi, which is better known for its sport-utility vehicles.


Could this development make a compact vehicle like the Mitsubishi Colt a good bet for future introduction to the South African market?


“Let’s just say that an effort will be made to ensure that the brand name ‘Colt’ is less associated with Mitsubishi’s pickup range, leaving room for other models,” Ebersohn said.