Mercedes Benz India rules out long wheelbase C Class

    Despite huge success of the E-Class long wheelbase, Mercedes India says stretched C-Class would disturb line-up.

    Published On May 23, 2023 01:01:00 PM

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    Mercedes-Benz C-Class long wheelbase for India

    The C-Class long wheelbase is exclusively sold in China

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    Mercedes-Benz India struck gold when it launched its long wheelbase (LWB) E-Class in 2017, with the added rear-seat space and comfort giving it a huge advantage over rivals. However, despite that car’s success, the LWB treatment was not extended to the smaller C-Class, and Mercedes-Benz India has now elaborated on why that was.

    1. Standard wheelbase C-Class deemed sufficient for Indian market
    2. E-Class and S-Class LWB versions sold in India
    3. BMW 3 Series LWB is India’s bestselling luxury sedan

    Launched in May 2022, the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class has proven to be a huge success for the brand in India, despite having gotten a bump up in price with its new generation. It came in close behind the E-Class as Mercedes India’s second bestselling model in FY2023, and while some of that can be attributed to the winding down and discontinuation of the GLC – the brand’s bestselling SUV and former first runner up in sales – the C's solid 2,405 units is a strong number by any measure.

    LWB sedans big business in chauffeur-driven India

    To put the concept of stretched sedans in context, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class flagship has always been sold in its LWB guise in India (and more recently the extra-long Maybach specification), as has every other car in its segment. However, in the Chinese market, long wheelbase versions of lesser sedans, and even some SUVs, have thrived for years. The LWB C-Class has been sold in China for several generations, but despite LWB cars seemingly having a strong pull in India, Mercedes says the standard wheelbase (SWB) C-Class meets buyers’ needs in its segment in India.

    India was the first ever market outside of China to get the LWB E-Class, and by extension, the only right-hand-drive market to do so as well. This meant that rather than simply importing kits for assembly at the plant in Chakan, Maharashtra, the car would require re-engineering for our market. It was a cost and a risk, but one that paid off.  As per Mercedes’ market research, however, the C-Class doesn’t warrant that sort of reworking for the Indian market.

    C-Class buyers prefer driving themselves

    Speaking to Autocar India, Santosh Iyer, MD and CEO of Mercedes-Benz India, clarified that while the E-Class and S-Class, both LWB models, have buyers that are primarily chauffeur driven, the C-Class does not, and its owners prefer to drive themselves.

    “We need to be clear on the customer use cases. Our E-Class customers, on weekdays, predominantly want to be in the rear seat and on the weekends, they want to drive. With the C-Class, however, many of our customers drive the car themselves,” said Iyer.

    What’s more revealing is that buyers who do prioritise the rear seat experience often end up making the jump from the C to E-Class. Spec for spec, the price difference between the two sedans is Rs 15 lakh, which is a stretch most buyers are comfortable to make. The additional cost of lengthening the C-Class would narrow this gap down, effectively killing its chances altogether.

    Iyer further elaborated, “By having long-wheelbase version of the C, we will actually disturb the line-up and our product offering. We are clear that in the core luxury segment, which is the E and GLE, both will come with an extended wheelbase. The C-Class and the GLC will get the standard wheelbase that is being offered across the world as well as in India.”

    Mercedes-Benz rivals’ approach to LWB

    Given the cost of going down the right-hand-drive long-wheelbase road for just a single market like ours, it’s understandable that luxury rivals like Audi, Volvo and Lexus have opted out of doing so, as the present volumes wouldn’t justify it. Audi said of its A6, at the time of its launch in 2019, that it wanted to offer just one model that catered to both, the driver and the driven.

    BMW, Mercedes’ closest rival in India at present, has taken a slightly different approach. With its SWB 5 Series being launched just months apart from the LWB E-Class in 2017, BMW chose to instead offer a second product in the same segment the following year. The larger, high-riding 6 Series GT was positioned above the 5 Series, with a wheelbase and rear-seat space comparable to the LWB E-Class, along with a few more creature comforts like standard air suspension and a reclining rear seat. It never sold as well as the E-Class or even the 5 Series, but it gave chauffeur-driven buyers an alternative.

    However, when it came to the segment below, BMW saw an opportunity and took it. Though the G20 3 Series – a rival for the Mercedes C-Class – was launched in standard wheelbase guise in 2019, a long wheelbase variant dubbed the 3 Series Gran Limousine followed in 2021. This was so successful that, with the facelift in early 2023, BMW effectively discontinued the standard 3 Series, making the LWB Gran Limo the norm. The results show – the 3 Series surpassed the C-Class and E-Class to become the bestselling luxury sedan of FY2023, with 3,428 units sold. 

    Moreover, as we exclusively reported, come 2024, BMW plans to ditch the 6 Series GT and make the next 5 Series a LWB model for India, taking the fight directly to the next-gen E-Class, which of course, will also be LWB. If this strategy of having both the 3 and 5 Series in LWB guise proves successful for BMW, perhaps it could be incentive for Mercedes India to relook at a LWB C-Class further down the line.

    Also See: 

    India-bound new Mercedes E-Class LWB: first pictures surface online

    Mercedes-AMG SL55 India launch on June 22

    Copyright (c) Autocar India. All rights reserved.

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