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