Geneva: Dieter Zetsche unveils the Mercedes-Benz CLA a.k.a. his last-chance saloon

Article by Christian A., on March 7, 2013

Daimler AG boss Dieter Zetsche introdiced a new Mercedes-Benz model, which is predicted to be the key to the brand’s revival, this week at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show. This was Zetsche’s first major appearance since his contract was extended by the board by a period shorter than anticipated last month. Zetsche will depend on the CLA compact as the solution to Daimler's long-term underperformance in small cars.

The industry also considers the performance of this model as a factor that will affect his management record. Zetsche has a challenging task in front of him. The 59-year-old Zetsche would have to cut the gap between Mercedes and BMW and Audi by fixing a China expansion plan that had failed. He would also need to attract new buyers to the brand’s wider lineup of minis and subcompacts.

Barclays analyst Michael Tyndall said that it’s very important to get its problem in China fixed. He believes that Mercedes will also have to attract the younger generation, further emphasizing the importance of models such as the CLA.

He said that the question now is if management has the motivation and means to grab these opportunities. The CLA is set to make its debut at the Geneva auto show where Daimler would have to prove its ability to leave behind a stuffy reputation that has been attributed for its failure to keep up with its two major rivals. It can be recalled that on February 21, the board decided to cut Zetsche's next term of office to three years from the five years that he expected.

The board also exchanged the manufacturing and truck division heads to improve the CEO potential of the two men. While Zetsche held the top position for seven years, Daimler stock has flatlined, with a 6% increase on the period.

Meanwhile, BMW experienced a 87% boost while VW's share price expanded five-fold. Daimler has repeatedly thrown out its earnings targets as Mercedes had become unable to match the scale of its scale or the fuel economy of its small cars. Mercedes also wasn’t able to keep up with the other brands’ growth in China. Last year, Daimler's underlying profit decreased by 10%. This is expected to be flat in 2013.

The CLA’s unmistakable appearance is thanks to its dynamic design elements, sporty proportions as well as the interplay between concave and convex surfaces.

Among the defining elements of the new CLA are its front end marked by its powerdome-laden bonnet, its diamond radiator grille and its headlights. Its daytime driving lights and indicators feature the so-called “flare effect,” which is a result of the unique arrangement of the light modules and LED units behind the headlamp glass. This new lighting signature helps define the CLA’s sporty appearance while shaping a new Mercedes face.

Thanks to several design details, the CLA could be regarded as a further development of its Mercedes CLS sibling. For instance, three pronounced feature lines lend structure, depth and dynamism to the sides of the new CLA. One of these is a dropping line that links the front end through the wings to the rear. A second line flows on the shoulder muscle above the rear axle, while the third line extends in a sweeping curve from the front wheel to the rear.

Meanwhile, the rear end of the CLA doesn’t only emphasize its width, but also conveys power and sportiness – thanks to the interplay between the vehicle convex and concave surfaces and edges. Meanwhile, the coupe-like appearance of the CLA – as seen from the rear – is lent by the curved rear window and the sloped roof contour. Likewise, the sporty appearance of the rear end is brought by the drawn-in C-pillars as well as by the muscular shoulder on the rear wheel arch.

The muscular lines of the shoulders extend to the rear end, thereby framing the tail lights of the CLA. Moreover, the tail lights are horizontally arranged – with the light functions featuring an arrow-style layout -- to further highlight the dynamics and breadth of the rear end.

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