Mercedes SLC Class: Is the Sun Finally Setting on the Little Roadster?
Car Buzz recently interviewed outgoing CEO Dieter Zetsche on the future of the vehicle, and while he confirms the end is near, all is not lost.
The 1990s were a golden era for the roadster. After nearly disappearing in the 1980s, car buyers all over the world fell back in love with the idea of a small, topless driver’s car. Of course, there was the Mazda Miata, which kickstarted the renaissance. Then there was the James Bond-approved BMW Z3. And the Porsche Boxster. To a lesser extent, the Lotus Elan. And, of course, the Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class, a car which stood out from the pack.
The CLK was notable for its inventive folding hardtop that could disappear in a mere 25 seconds. But the steel roof was heavy and complex. In fact, the whole car was heavier than its competitors; it was a whole 600 pounds heavier than a Miata. Car Buzz recently did an article on this very subject.
But for 22 years, the CLK, now the SLC-Class, has been giving drivers an open-topped Mercedes roadster that’s plenty powerful, has four-seasons weather protection, and offers a comfortable Mercedes driving experience. In a world where the Miata and 718 Boxster have benefitted from recent refreshes, and a new BMW Z4 is on its way, you would think that the SLC-Class was thriving. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.
Today’s small roadster market is more interested in driver’s cars that can handle commuting as well as the occasional track day. From Mercedes’ perspective, the SLC simply doesn’t cut it. Despite a handsome refresh for 2019, outgoing CEO Dieter Zetsche thinks the roadster is running on borrowed time. “These specialty cars have lost their share in our total portfolio,” he says. “For a particularly long time, China has led growth, and China shows little interest in cars such as these.”
Zetsche’s successor, Ola Kallenius, seems to confirm that Benz’s compact roadster is on the chopping block. “We’ve had 20-plus years of uninterrupted broadening of the portfolio,” he says. “… Even if we love every child – and we do – we’ll be rational. We will not hesitate to slim down if we look at the economics. We will look at the next 10 years and cater to where the market is going.”
Interestingly, CarBuzz has a good take on Mercedes’ roadster problem. If the Miata and 718 Boxster are selling, and the Z4 is generating tons of publicity, why not just revamp the SLC-Class to be more of a driver’s car? Sure, the SLC 43 pumps out some 385 horsepower, but it’s still too much of a comfortable cruiser. Imagine a world where Mercedes sells a light, lithe roadster, with a simple folding top and a comfortable interior. A true SuperLight offering that is comfortable enough on a long drive, but nimble enough to handle a track day every now and again. We’re not saying that it’s going to happen, but we’d love it if it did.