Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell

Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell

Fans of Mercedes-Benz know that while the U.S. sees only midsize-and-up vehicles from the brand, it sells a full range of cars, including compacts, in Europe. But that may be set to change in the next year or two, as a report claims Mercedes is working on a B-Class hatchback and a compact SUV for American sale.

The argument for compact premium cars is growing in strength, as Audi is already gearing up the A1, Lexus is bringing in the CT 200h, and BMW has plans for its "megacity" car under a sub-brand. Historically, the luxury segment has avoided small cars in the U.S. to preserve the premium brand image, but as fuel economy requirements tighten and attitudes change, America looks to be ready to accept the notion of a premium compact--or at least the major luxury brands are gambling on that premise.

Timing is still up in the air--a new generation of the B-Class that will underpin the hatch and compact SUV/crossover is due out in Europe toward the end of 2011, but when it may come to America is anybody's guess. They won't likely come here until after their Euro premiere, however. When they do arrive, expect Mercedes to work hard on preserving their premium status--edgy styling, lots of equipment and plush interiors will be the name of the game.

Alternative power is also expected, meaning hybrids, most likely. The appeal of the small car among premium buyers is contingent as much upon a clean, green image as it is on luxury, especially as a third car. Mercedes has already launched the S400 Hybrid in the U.S., and is gearing up to offer many more. The B-Class hatch could even be a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, as a small-scale 100-car test will be conducted here later this year.

For more on the next-gen Mercedes-Benz B-Class, check out our spy shot coverage here. And to get a glimpse at Mercedes' fuel-cell technology, read about its application in the B-Class F-CELL Concept shown at Geneva last week.

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