Mercedes Rework Their Naming System… Again

Naming systems can be confusing. Mercedes Benz is having another bash at designating their bewildering array of vehicles. And other news. 

2002 Mercedes Vaneo
2002 Mercedes Vaneo: brand extension at its extendiest.

As we speak Cadillac is bringing in a 3-letter system; Lincoln is forgetting its long standing convention of Mk-cars. Who knows what a MKZ might be? And is a Mercedes GLA a G-class or an A-class? In philosophy classification has been a problem since Plato, or perhaps before. The difficulty lies in reducing the messy fuzziness of the universe to a few categories. A system needs to be simpler than reality.

As you know the universe is infinite and there are an infinite number of objects in it. Does the categorisation system include itself? A finite number of categories, for example, no matter how large, will always be too small to fully encompass all objects in a consistent way such that there are no exceptions or overlaps. You’d think that categorising the cars you make yourself would be easier since unlike the universe, a range of cars is finite and you are in charge.

No. Mercedes has been making a meal of its classification system for five or six decades, even though they only make a few vehicle types at a time. Now they are having another go according to a news item released recently. And it is also a bit tricky to grasp.

Let’s review. Thirty years ago they had a confusing system but the set it applied to was small, just a few saloons and coupes. The convention had anomalies: the 450 SEL had a 6.9 litre engine though the numeral part normally referred to the engine capacity on other S-classes. The mid-sized cars were just named after the engines (200, 220, 260, 280) but other cars had letters too: 280 CE, 420 SL. But was the SL a saloon or a coupe?

2011 Mercedes R-class. A car with good ride quality.
2011 Mercedes R-class. A car with good ride quality.

For a later spell it somehow made some sense. That was the late 80s up to the recent past: there was the A-class, C-class, E-class and S-class. The number referred to the engine size: an A-160 was a an A-class with a 1.6 litre engine, for example. The coupes were always a bit trickier. An S-class coupe used to be called an SEC but became just an S-500 (for example). An SL was not a long wheel-base S but a two two door coupe. The K in SL meant it was short, not that it had a “kompressor”.

Right now, the system is a mish and a mash. The E-class coupe is based on the C-class platform, making it a bit of a cheat. The CLA is not the LA version of the C-class but the coupe version of the front-wheel drive A-class. The GLA has nothing to do with the G-class (that’s the slabby off-roader with roots in the 70s). Numbers and engine sizes have parted company, as far as I can see.

Before getting on to explain the new nomenclature, the MB press report starts first by revealing that the venerable Maybach name is now to be a kind of trim level for Mercedes, not unlike Ghia for Ford, I suppose. The Mercedes S-class will now come in Maybach trim, as far as I understand the document.

With that out of the way we get to hear an explanation of the system which will be “simple, clear and transparent” which is an admission the old one wasn’t. The core model letters will be A, B, C, E and S. That’s okay but is the E coupe still going to based on the C-class? What has happened to R and V? The M-class is retiring.

I will cut and paste the system here to avoid error:

GLA = GL A-Class

GLC = GL C-Class (previously GLK)

GLE = GL E-Class; previously M-Class or ML

GLE Coupé = GL E-Class Coupé

GLS = GL S-Class; previously GL

G = unchanged.

The “L”part is just to make the names easier to say, apparently. Actually it has its roots in the SL naming, an abbreviation of the German superlicht or “super light”.

And now here’s some more of their explanation:

The system for the 4-door Coupés is constructed along similar lines. The first two letters, “CL”, denote the origin, the third letter the link to one of the core model series: in other words CLA and CLA Shooting Brake, or CLS and CLS Shooting Brake.

From 2016 on the Roadsters will all include “SL” in their names to denote their origin, with the third letter again the link to one of the core model series. The SLK therefore becomes the new SLC. As in the case of the G, the SL retains its designation as hitherto, in recognition of its iconic status.

I had forgotten about this. It's supposed to be a cut-price RWD coupe.
I had forgotten about this. It’s supposed to be a cut-price RWD coupe.

In a development paralleling that of the model series designations, the different types of engines will also be given new designations. These provide clear orientation and are also shorter than the designations used until now. The boot lids will in future feature lower-case letters, whose meaning is as follows:

c for “compressed natural gas” (Natural Gas Drive until now)

d for “diesel” (BlueTEC and CDI until now)

e for “electric” (PLUG-IN HYBRID, BlueTEC PLUG-IN HYBRID and Electric Drive until now)

f for “fuel cell” (F-CELL until now)

h for “hybrid” (HYBRID and BlueTEC HYBRID until now).

I wonder have they run all of this past the language checkers? Could not some of those abbreviations sound rude or odd in other tongues?

Finally, I think the change from SLK to SLC is merely forced by the rest of the SL and GL and CL confusion. The SLK was a great sounding name while SLC sounds like a boring accountancy agency. It really does seem to me that Mercedes can’t decide upon what basis their cars are named as this looks like not one system but at least three.

The core problem is that it uses suffixes and not prefixes. The GL and CL suffixes get in the way of the identity of the core letter. Better would be to have the core letters followed by a prefix. I’d abandon links across from road cars to SUVs too. There are only three of them, at the most. Maybe they ought to have just been given letters as the M-class was.

Do you remember where you were when Volvo changed from three digit names to Ss and Vs and XCs? This seems to be one of those moments. We all know what a 240 was. Who knows what a V40 is? Or a Mercedes GLC 170c.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

22 thoughts on “Mercedes Rework Their Naming System… Again”

  1. The 70’s and 80’s run of the mill had it cracked, but they decided on some modern equivalent of redesigning the wheel. 1.1, 1.3L, 1.3 GL. 1.6 Ghia, 2.0GL. 2.0 Ghia…. OK they had to eventually add an X. Remember when you could have a Capri 3.0 GTXLR … SXPTRFDTE.

    1. Agreed. But then engines and engine power became detached. And the old trim designations were given random names: Fun/Merit/Pulse for example. Fun would be the base model, Merit the middle one and Pulse the topline. What was that about? Mercedes started it with Avantgarde, didn´t they?

  2. I understand that Mercedes want a logical sounding system, rather than an arbitrary series of names, although giving the S Class a cute name like the Bloblinka is tempting. But the system you outline just exhausts me.

    Could we compromise with a quasi-scientific solution and use a naming system based on taxonomy? Although the world of Setright is a distant memory, I think people still retain an innate respect for Latin. So a saloon would revert to its root and become ‘Sella’.

    Next is the size, so an S Class would be ‘Sella Maxima’.

    I think the designer’s name should figure on all cars, so we can identify the guilty. So, say, ‘Sella Maxima Wageneris’

    Then comes the engine. Actual capacity has become irrelevant anyway, so in a way has an absolute measurement of power. When buying a car, you really want to see where ‘your’ choice sits within the range. Therefore, any ascending scale will do as long as it has sufficient options. I’d suggest the musical scale, which should cover enough options. Thus a mid range S Class becomes ‘Sella Maxima Wageneris in F Minor’.

    The boot lid should be wide enough to accommodate this and a bit more chrome on a modern Mercedes won’t go amiss with their clientele.

    Incidentally, my Latin is as rusty as my knowledge of James Bond books, so please feel free to correct.

  3. In fairness to M-B there is a table in the press release (see ‘New nomenclature Mercedes-Benz model series Photo number: 14A1356) which makes a fair bit of sense.

    Also does it really matter that much that the E-Class Coupé is based on the C-Class platform?

  4. Most certainly it does. The E-class is a benchmark car. Mercedes Benz know it is a gold standard for many even if it does not deserve to be. Thus when people stump up for an E-class coupe they are expecting to get E-class class bits under the bodywork. That´s how it was with the great W123-based 230 CE and friends, and the W-124 based 250 CE and friends. To sell C-class bits under the E-class name is just trading on past glory.

    1. But that presupposes that the E-class platform is actually ‘better’ (whatever that means), which isn’t a given.

    2. Replying to Laurent (below): Well, yes, it is supposed to be better. That´s why an E costs more than a C, I would argue. It´s not just the size but the way it´s supposed to be engineered. I think Mercedes would have a hard time labelling the same E-class coupe as as C-class coupe and charging the same money for it.

    3. Not sure I agree. When you buy from one of the so-called ‘premium’ brands like M-B you are entitled to expect that the C-class is engineered just as well as the E-class. As for the second question, there should enough differences between C- and E-Class Coupés (including in size) to justify the price difference.

  5. I think the point about engine size is reasonable. Does it matter whether you have the 320 or the 250. They’re available in the same spec anyway. Thus you have c-sport e-luxury s-economy .. for want of better words/names. If you want to advertise the power the have a small badge at the bottom for the front wing with 2.2 or 3.2. I am thinking out loud rather than considering for 3 hours and then posting LOL

    1. In the world of car-park hierarchies, a 320 trumps a 250. A clear naming system gives the customer a receipt for their investment. The old DL, GL, GLX-type of system allied to an engine size was very clear. Perhaps it was too clear? Some people opted for a deleted badge so no-one could tell, for example, their BMW was a 316i and not a 325i, not without counting tail-pipes.

  6. Ironically I sold a customer a pair of headlamps for his classic 900 yesterday and he is involved with managing a very very famous rock band and his address had an SW postcode. He happened to (and had no knowledge until I mentioned it) know another guy who runs a music studio and he lives in an estimated £2m flat in London. They both drive classic 900’s – one a 1990 model and the other a 1992 model.
    Some people don’t fell the need to flash their number on the back of their motor vehicles.

  7. “Not sure I agree. When you buy from one of the so-called ‘premium’ brands like M-B you are entitled to expect that the C-class is engineered just as well as the E-class. As for the second question, there should enough differences between C- and E-Class Coupés (including in size) to justify the price difference.”
    In theory you´d expect them to be as well engineered. But I think we can say that´s not the case.
    Ideally the E coupe should be spun off the E platform and then there would be no debate. As it stands, the E spun of a platform designed to sell at a lower price point. They have either engineered the goodness back in (and wasted effort) or just kept the savings from using the C platform.
    That said, it´s not my problem. I am not in the market for such a car. However, I don´t view the current E coupe with the same reverence I have for its 70s and 80s forebears. It´s just a car. I´d rather spend the money on a nicely loaded Opel or Ford and enjoy the extra goodies and space. I know that´s not a normal viewpoint though! Ford and Opel need to find me and clone me.

    1. Interesting. It’s all about expectations, isn’t it? Personally I’m not expecting the E-class to be engineered any better than the C-class – just bigger. Trim and engine choices is where differentiation happens at that level.

    1. You’re perfectly entitled to it but I’d be interested to know where that sentiment comes from though. If anything when M-B launched the C-class (it was called 190 back then) I don’t think it was perceived as a cut-price offering, just a smaller package which in turned explained the lower asking price.

    2. Agree with Laurent – at the time the 190 was considered to be merely a smaller version with the same quality and integrity. MB though have cheapened their products across the range since the mid 90’s and are now (if reports are to be believed) attempting to rectify that quality perception issue. The difference was in the specification you ordered for your vehicle eg electric windows, sports suspension, air conditioning etc.
      Of course the market has changed and now most features are standard anyway, remember when you could order a heated rear window for your Ford Escort?

  8. Correct: the 190 was the same great Mercedes quality in a smaller package. I feel that this is not the case today. The smaller cars are not engineered the same way as the larger ones and none of them have the hewn-from-solid-integrity feeling that they had until the early 90s. I can see that when I look at them close up, when I sit in them and when I am driven about in them. Sure, they are well made for the most part yet I feel they lack that solidity that meant durability. The C-class is not so different from a Mondeo or a Mazda 6 in the way a 190 was markedly superior to a Sierra or a Renault 18. Loads of people are utterly indifferent to this, I recognise that. When they see an Opel Insignia they see a Vectra from 1994; when they see the three-pointed star their minds flash back to the heyday of the E280 and the 300 SE. Much like the giant image of a succulent hamburger tricks one into ignoring the damp, lukewarm pad of fake bread and grey meat you actually get, the image of old Mercedes gets in the way of seeing the current cars for what they are, a bit above average in some respects; they are not monuments.

  9. What a half baked attempt to make this work. Here is my suggestion. Which centres on NEVER having a model name with three letters and to align everything within the A,B,C,E and S sizes.

    I suggest:

    A150 – 5 door
    AC150 – 2 door
    AT150 – Station wagon or T-wagon
    AR150 – CLA type 4 dour coupe
    AF150 – CLA type 4 dour shooting brake
    AM150 – MPV
    AG150 – SUV
    AZ150 – SUV 4 door coupe
    AP180 – four seat cabrio
    AL150 – Roadster

    B180 – 5 door
    BC180 – 2 door
    BT180 – Station wagon or T-wagon
    BR180 – CLA type 4 dour coupe
    BF180 – CLA type 4 dour shooting brake
    BM180 – MPV
    BG180 – SUV
    BZ180 – SUV 4 door coupe
    BP180 – four seat cabrio
    BL180 – Roadster

    C180 – 4 door
    CC180 – 2 door
    CT180 – Station wagon or T-wagon
    CR180 – CLA type 4 dour coupe
    CF180 – CLA type 4 dour shooting brake
    CM180 – MPV
    CG180 – SUV old GLK
    CZ180 – SUV 4 door coupe
    CP180 – four seat cabrio
    CL180 – Roadster – old SLK

    E280 – 4 door
    EC280 – 2 door
    ET280 – Station wagon or T-wagon
    ER280 – CLA type 4 dour coupe
    EF280 – CLA type 4 dour shooting brake
    EG280 – SUV old ML
    EZ280 – SUV 4 door coupe
    EP280 – four seat cabrio
    EL280 – Roadster

    S280 – 4 door
    SC280 – 2 door
    ST280 – Station wagon or T-wagon
    SR280 – CLA type 4 dour coupe
    SF280 – CLA type 4 dour shooting brake
    SG280 – SUV old GLK
    SZ280 – SUV 4 door coupe
    SP280 – four seat cabrio
    SL280 – Roadster

    G280 – G-class (as before really)
    GP280 – G-class cabrio (no discountintued!)
    GZ280 – Pick up 6 wheel thing
    etc

    NOT sexy at all on the whole BUT it has a German logic. Though there are very few sexy letters left if you have so many niches! I mean really who would drive a BP180 cabrio?!!? LOL (What will happen if you want to put fuel in it that’s not from BP? hehehe)

    Though as I did now you can easily and logically add a whole range within a series with ease with just one letter. So a future [insert niche here] Mercedes of the size of a C-class can have the letter K and be called the CK200h and everyone will know that is a C sized car with a hybrid engine.

    1. I agree with Richard, Johann. I can’t help but think there should be a 5 figure cheque in the post from Daimler AG for you, if they had any sense. Unfortunately ……

  10. Once you have finally worked the current system and the headache has finally cleared there will be further changes no doubt. There was an SLC back in the 70’s ( a fhc of the R107) with a weird accordion type design feature in the C pillar. Not Sindelfingen’s finest hour. Maybe they are hoping it was forgotten about.

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