Mercedes-Benz Accused of Cutting Corners in China

As the long-wheelbase version of the tenth-gen E-Class started to hit showrooms in China recently, Mercedes-Benz has launched an expensive publicity campaign celebrating what it believes to be a major landmark in the close race with BMW and Audi in the local market. Yet, the festive mood did not seem to last long as the company has to face a major embarrassment generated by an online article that argues convincingly that the E-Class L made by Beijing-Benz is not really top-class and all-new as claimed, but an inferior product: most importantly, the Chinese version is nearly 300kg heavier than the overseas, as the latter employs light-weight materials extensively while the former still sticks to a heavy steel bodyshell basically unchanged from the previous generation; this overweight should cause major concerns over the car’s safety and performance.

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The accusing article, originally posted on WeChat by a BMW fan club, is titled "How the China-made E-Class L differs from the overseas E-Class: BMW 5 congratulates on the release of the new E-Class". Citing the fuel consumption label from the government, the author points out that the E200L has a curb weight of 1870kg, while in Germany the E200 weighs only 1575kg without passengers or cargo.

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Curb weight of E-Class L on fuel economy label

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Curb weight of E-Class on Mercedes’ German website

The huge difference in weight cannot be explained by the increased wheelbase (of 140mm) alone. It has most to do with materials. On its official website, the German carmaker states with pride that "the engineers [of the 2017 E-Class] opted for a bodyshell with a far higher proportion of aluminum and ultra-high-strength steel components than its predecessor." Evidently that premium feature is not shared with Chinese consumers, who are offered a heavyweight model just like the previous generation (the 2015 E300 L has a curb weight of 1880kg).

By cutting corners Mercedes-Benz intends to make the E-Class L more competitive in pricing against the sector-leader, the BMW 5 L. While it is an understandable move, the company owes Chinese consumers an explanation on how the weight gain affects the car’s safety, handling, fuel economy, and performance. If localization means developing products falling short of international standards, we can do without it.