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Future models - Mercedes-Benz - A-class

Geneva show: Merc readies A-class for show and tell

Glimpse: Mercedes showed this A-class concept at last year’s Shanghai motor show in April, revealing its desire to create a low-slung three-door hatch.

Baby Benz waiting in the wings for public debut ahead of early 2013 rollout in Oz

Mercedes-Benz logo20 Jan 2012

By RON HAMMERTON

MERCEDES-BENZ’S new entry-level A-class range is poised to make its public debut within weeks, probably at this year’s Geneva motor show in March, putting the German company’s Australian arm on a countdown to the restoration of the model to its local range in early 2013.

Mercedes-Benz Cars Australia dropped the A-class from local showrooms two years ago when it decided to put all its compact-vehicle eggs into the larger but conceptually similar B-class basket – a move that pushed that car to number one in its segment.

The new third-generation A-class will be designed more like a conventional hatchback in five- and three-door configurations, separating it from the B-class and tackling the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 head on.

A compact SUV built on the same platform – the modular architecture that also sits under the new second-generation B-class that arrives in Australia in April – is also in development for a 2013 debut in Europe and 2014 arrival in Australia.

The all-new small-vehicle line-up – A-class, B-class and GLC compact SUV – will finally give Australian Mercedes dealers a formidable low-end armoury to counter the likes of Audi, which has been making inroads with vehicles such as the Golf-based A3 hatchback and Q3 small SUV, not to mention BMW with its X1.

4 center imageThe new A-class is designed to take a full array of powertrain options, all the way from basic petrol to hydrogen fuel cell. Diesel, hybrid, range-extender hybrid and full electric can all be accommodated in the so-called ‘half sandwich’ platform that replaces the full-sandwich floor construction of the current model.

The good news for hot hatch fans is that Mercedes is planning an AMG A-class hatchback, reportedly equipped with all-wheel drive, to take the fight up to Audi’s S3 and BMW’s 1M.

The first-generation A-class was launched in 1998 and promptly drove into a storm of bad publicity when it failed the famous ‘moose avoidance test’ by tipping over.

Mercedes countered with technical measures to fix the issue, but to a certain extent the car was tainted, despite its revolutionary design and spacious packaging.

In Australia, the company persevered with the little hatchback until 2010, when it bit the bullet and dropped the second-generation model, saying that the B-class was a better bet for Australian customers.

At the time, sales were fairly evenly split between the A- and B-class ranges in the year ending 2009, but even combined they were outsold by the Audi A3, Mini Cooper and BMW 1 Series hatchback.

The move to focus on the B-class paid immediate dividends, with sales soaring 184 per cent in 2010 to outpace all but the A3 in the luxury small-car class, 1975 sales to 1951.

Last year, the B-class comfortably outsold the A3, 1 Series and Mini to become number one, although the BMW came back strongly late in the year with the arrival of the latest generation.

Mercedes is now running short of B-class stock as it clears the old model ahead of the April arrival of the all-new second generation.

The new A-class is expected to be so different from the previous generations – and the B-class – that Mercedes-Benz Australia is keen to have another crack, confident a three-year hiatus and advanced new package will wipe the slate clean.

Mercedes showed an A-class concept at last year’s Shanghai motor show in April, revealing intentions for a low-slung sports three-door hatch.

It is unclear if that styling will be carried through into the production model to be shown at the Swiss extravaganza starting on March 6, but Mercedes-Benz executives confirmed that the A-class will shed the full one-box tallboy look for a more mainstream small car design.

If Benz is true to form, teaser images are likely to start emerging well ahead of the event.

According to Mercedes insiders, both the A-class and B-class will each ultimately come in four body configurations.

One of these is expected to arrive in the form of the GLC compact SUV, which is about a year away from public debut.

That vehicle is not expected to become available in right-hand-drive Australian spec for about a year after that, meaning a 2014 arrival locally.

The GLC is likely to be a B-class-sized vehicle, sitting below the C-class-based GLK in the global range.

The GLK was released in 2009, but only in left-hand drive, so was never seen in Australia.

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