American car buyers have said, “eh?,” to the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, and a new report indicates the luxury brand plans to pull the compact sedan from its line-up at the end of the 2022 model year.
The A-Class debuted in 1997 but wasn’t brought to the States until 2018. At the time, it was billed as the right product to bring in a new generation — millennials — luxury buyers, much as the old 190 “Baby Benz” had done with Baby Boomers decades earlier.
But Mercedes executives appear not to have read the tea leaves very well, especially the rate at which U.S. car buyers have shifted from sedans and coupes to SUVs and CUVs. So, it appears the little sedan will be dropped at the end of the current model year, according to a memo to dealers obtained by trade publication Automotive News.
The expectation was that the A-Class “will do really, really well,” former Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Dietmar Exler said prior to the sedan’s launch in 2018. That has clearly not proven to be the case.
In a conversation with TheDetroitBureau.com at the time, Exler compared his aspirations for the A-Class to what Mercedes experienced with the original Baby Benz. The model officially known as the Mercedes-Benz 190 went through several years of internal debate before management finally gave its approval. The concerns included product proliferation and the risk of watering down the brand’s image of exclusivity.
Instead, the Baby Benz proved to be both high popular and able to bring in young buyers who traded up as they grow older and more affluent.
The original A-Class was seen as too quirky in design for the American market, insiders acknowledged, and senior Mercedes management again worried about diluting the image of luxury with a price tag that would eventually start at just under $30,000. It was only after a new A-Class was launched with a more conventional design that the compact sedan was approved for the U.S. market. And the car got a hefty buildup, including a costly ad during the Super Bowl.
Demand never really took off, Mercedes selling just 17,641 A-Class sedans in 2019. By last year, that was down to a mere 8,108. Even considering the impact of COVID and the ongoing semiconductor shortage, that figure wasn’t sustainable.
But there may be other factors at play, including a desire by the current management team at the newly renamed Mercedes-Benz Group to rein in the product proliferation the automaker has undertaken in recent decades.
When the little 190 was launched, Mercedes had just two other sedan models, what are now the E- and S-Class, along with the SL roadster. In the decades since it has rolled out an alphabet soup of new sedans, coupes, roadsters, SUVs and CUVs. The proliferation reached a point, just a few years ago, that the automaker had to rejig model names to help customers distinguish various products. Still, there are today models including A, C, E-, S, CLA, CLS, G, GLC, GLE, GLS, SL and others in U.S. showrooms, each with a variety of variants. And there are an assortment of all-electric models coming, the new EQS just the first to reach U.S. showrooms.
“Model proliferation for Mercedes has gotten to be too much,” Todd Bondy, operating partner at Mercedes-Benz of Oklahoma City told Automotive News. “It’s hard for dealers to stock everything.”
Whether other products might go away is uncertain, though Mercedes did take a knife to the slow-selling SLK roadster several years ago. And Ola Källenius, the Swedish executive who took over as CEO of what used to be Daimler AG two years ago, has made it clear that he’s ready to rethink just about everything in the automaker’s playbook going forward.