Is there a way we can tell German automakers to stop carving new niches? We're already well past the point where the words to describe the type of car made any sense – Sports Activity Vehicle may have been the tipping point. But just because German automakers are creating rivals to BMW's British-made, British-branded Mini, does that mean everyone needs one? No.
Autocar spoke to Daimler's Dieter Zetsche about whether the Mercedes-Benz brand needed a competitor to the wildly successful Mini hatchback, its third generation on its way shortly. Zetsche didn't totally kill the rumor of a smaller-than-an-A-Class hatchback with the three-pointed star on it, but squashed most hope it would show up soon. Which is great, because Mercedes doesn't need a Mini-like hatch.
It makes reasonable sense for Audi to have the A1. Audi's history isn't rooted in large, prestigious cars the way Mercedes' is, and it's only recently Ingolstadt has been successful in that market. Besides, the A1 Quattro did a good job of reminding all of us Audi used to make screaming all-wheel drive machines before it made a fleet of crossovers.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The A1 may look redundant next to the Volkswagen Polo, but remember that the Polo actually has its roots in an Audi model, the Audi 50 from 1974. If the A1 is a successor to this model, that's a perfectly logical connection I could buy into and something that wouldn't make people instantly wonder if you bought it just to get the four rings on the front of your car.
Had BMW wanted to revive the 700 cars in some sort of retro design back in the early 2000s, it wouldn't have kept Mini following the Rover Group disassembling process. Well, probably not, but it might have made at least some sense back then. BMW made Mini into its silly small car brand to keep the BMW brand's identity intact as something more expensive and more desirable, even if they're all set to muck it up with the front-wheel drive (and Mini-based) 1-series.
There's absolutely no reason Mercedes needs to confuse matters like BMW has and offer up very expensive very small cars when it already has a brand for silly small cars. What's the point of keeping Smart around if these funky cars are going to get glitzed up with the badge off of an S-Class? Already, the GLA-Class seems like a crossover too far that might have been cooler if it weren't trying to pose as a real sibling to the bigger GL. It might take it more seriously if they called it a Smart and put wings on it (well, maybe not, but you get my point).