Mercedes-Benz has two dilemmas facing product planners: whether to proceed with the SLC, a sports car derived from the SLS AMG supercar, and whether the 'baby SLS' should be front- or mid-engined.
Logic would suggest the SLC (revealed in our artist's impression) to be a slimmed-down sports car built on the front-engined, rear-drive aluminium platform that underpins the SLS. But it appears that AMG has been exploring a mid-engined layout for the compact coupe and its roadster sibling.
The mid-engined Merc: from SLS AMG to SLC AMG
If Mercedes built the SLC in a mid-engined guise, according to a member of the AMG R&D team carryover items would include the transaxle transmission, rear suspension, steering and brakes, safety cell and the electronic platform. The main changes would thus be restricted to a new front suspension, and a front-end structure and centre section complete with longer wheelbase and conventional front-hinged doors.
To bring the costs down and to create a significant dynamic distinction, the SLC (for lack of a more suitable acronym) would be powered by a new twin-turbo V6 engine AMG is currently developing alongside a turbocharged four-cylinder (destined for the next-gen A-class). A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is, of course, also part of the parcel.
Mercedes could also create an eco variant of the SLC. The weight-reduction efforts and the experience gained with the SLS E-cell EV should form the foundation of a plug-in hybrid or range extender EV which would give Mercedes a second-generation answer to the BMW i8.
Mercedes SLC: the front-engined counterpoint
But there is a second faction which believes that Mercedes should remain loyal to the classic front-engine approach. That´s why AMG is currently said to be leaning towards a shrunken SLS powered by the aforementioned twin-turbo V6. To save money, the 'gullwing' doors would disappear; to create more compact dimensions, the wheelbase would be shortened; to justify a higher price point than the SL, the car will need to be a relative lightweight, with alloy or carbonfibre construction.
When Volker Mornhinweg left AMG in April 2010 to head up Mercedes' van division, the advanced plans for a mid-engined coupe/roadster positioned below the SLS suddenly stalled. When asked about the mid-engined car Daimler chairman Dieter Zetsche replied, 'Such a model is not among our top priorities. After all, a mid-engined layout is not part of our DNA.'
Mercedes SLC: Will they or won't they?
Thomas Weber, Merc's board member in charge of R&D, admitted to CAR that the proposed 'baby SLS' is at a crossroads: 'We have not yet pushed the lever in one direction or the other. For a start, high-end sports cars don't automatically sell like hot cakes anymore. There are so many new brands and models entering the fray that the individual segments are actually shrinking. With volumes likely to remain relatively low, it is difficult to justify the expensive breakthrough technologies it takes to support a halo car. In an ideal world, one would want to create two souls in one shell: a high-performance vehicle and an ultra-ecological model. In either application, lightweight construction is essential.'
Insiders expect a decision on the SLC before the end of 2011.
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