BMW saw what Porsche did with its roadster, but will Mercedes do the same?
As we recently reported, the all-new BMW Z4 partly owes its existence to the Porsche 718 Boxster. It is the latter that has proven there is still indeed a market for roadsters, albeit a small one. Porsche discovered the winning roadster formula and BMW took notice. Unfortunately, the Mercedes-Benz SLC, updated for 2019, doesn’t seem to share the Z4’s good fortune. According to Autocar, the SLC roadster faces an uncertain future due to low segment demand, but this does not mean (at least not yet) a replacement has been ruled out entirely.
“These specialty cars have lost their share in our total portfolio,” said soon to retire Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche. “For a particularly long time, China has led growth, and China shows little interest in cars such as these.”
Fortunately, Mercedes-Benz is still open to the roadster segment, but the conditions need to be right. “Our portfolio is not something defined for eternity. We revisit constantly, and that’s what we’re doing. Any decisions we will communicate in the future,” Zetsche added. The SLC, which until 2016 was called the SLK, originally launched back in 1996. Unlike the BMW Z3 roadster at the time, the SLK featured a folding hardtop, perhaps one of its most signature traits. Unfortunately for the SLK/SLC, the folding hardtop has fallen out of style and its added weight is not something engineers particularly like.
What Porsche and BMW have done for their respective latest roadsters is to keep things simple with a conventional folding soft top. Combined with a dynamic chassis and proper suspension tuning, both the 718 Boxster and Z4 (test drives will get underway soon) offer/promise a thrilling driving experience. Both roadsters are equally comfortable handling the daily commute or a weekend track day event.
Zetsche’s recently named successor, Ola Kallenius, who currently serves as Mercedes development boss, offered a broader outlook regarding the automaker’s thinking: “We’ve had 20-plus years of uninterrupted broadening of the portfolio,” he said. “In 2022, we’ll have 40-plus models. 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.”
For now, the Mercedes-Benz SLC is still around but it’ll require some re-thinking in tune with what Porsche and BMW have done in order to keep it alive.