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Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Broadcast dates : 6th June 2004/10th June 2004

Whether it be a car, a man or a woman, the mid-life period is often seen as a crucial stage. Seeing as this is a programme about man-made motorised devices we won't delve too deeply into the psychological aspects of this phenomenon.

In short, the current generation Mercedes-Benz C-Class has been around now for three and a half years, and although like all Mercedes models it has kept its youthful appearance, the competitive nature of the current car market dictated the need for a rather thorough makeover.

The up-grade to the C-Class range was launched a month ago. Identifying the new freshened-up C-Class would take an expert eye, as the outward changes are very subtle.

Yet the changes to the car are much more extensive than most people would expect and in total, more than twelve hundred new components reside in the revamped, post May 2004 C-Class line-up.

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class line-up is particularly important to DaimlerChrysler South Africa's Mercedes-Benz division as it represents the company's major export product from its manufacturing plant in East London.

South Africa supplies right-hand drive versions of the C-Class to the world's major markets that drive on the left-hand side of the road, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, and of, course, the South African home market.

A total of one hundred and forty five thousand C-Class sedans have been built in East London since late 2000, while world -wide production of the C-Class totals some one comma two five million units.

More than 40 000 units have been sold in South Africa alone, and this is the most successful Mercedes-Benz product ever produced, in terms of numbers.

The C-Class is built in six basic variants here, ranging from the C180 Kompressor model through to the range-topping C320. Mercedes-Benz is proud that the South African-built cars have earned the reputation of being built to the precisely the same exacting standards as the cars built at the parent company's plant in Stuttgart Germany.

And the export programme has been vital for the Eastern Cape economy too, as some three thousand one hundred people are employed at the DCSA plant in East London.

The DaimlerChrsyler plant in East London has a history going back to 1948 when it was known as Car Distributors Assembly. The plant assembled a wide array of cars, including the American Nash in the mid-1950s, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta in he early 1960s and the Renault Dauphine.

In the 1980s Mercedes-Benz South Africa assembled Honda Ballades, and arrangement that continued for over 20 years and made Honda cars a house-hold name in this country.

The new mid-2004 Mercedes-Benz C-Class marks the introduction of a new paint process known as nano-particle technology. This new process refers to a new type of clear-coat covering the base colour that is much more scratch resistant than before. This is a world first for the DaimlerChrysler organisation.

The paint shop is one of the most critical areas in the car plant, as this is where the final appearance of the car is determined.

Dust is the big enemy in a paint shop and one of the methods used to ensure a blemish-free finish is to use roller dusters made from ostrich feathers to remove tiny particles. These emu or ostrich feathers are used as they have a natural anti-static property - presumably because ostriches live in dry static-filled climates like the Little Karoo.

The paint process involves many stages from bare metal to the final clear coat stage. These include a phosphate dip which is vital to corrosion resistance, an e-coat which is electrostatically applied to seal the car body from corrosion, followed by primer, base colours, and then the clear coat.

This is where the car is built up from pressed steel panels using robotic welding.

In the new C-Class introduction, the decision was taken to run-out all the models using the old components, stopping the production line and then starting again with the new components.

This is highly unusual as it requires precise logistical planning especially as twelve hundred new components were being introduced.

Normally a new model introduction would be overlapped on the production line.

The finished product is a wonderful sight after seeing the cars being built up from raw metal.

The new car is immediately identifiable thanks to its new three-bar radiator grille and new bumper treatment from the front view.

The model we are driving is a C220 CDi. This is a diesel model which uses an improved version of the excellent 2,2-litre turbocharged Mercedes diesel engine.

Power has been boosted by five kilowatts to 110 kilowatts

Other dynamic changes are also in evidence on the new model.

The handling and steering response has been sharpened up with what Mercedes-Benz calls its Direct Control system.

The wheel track has been increased by 12 mm and the new models use 16-inch wheels that replace the previous 15-inch items. Tyre width sizing is up from 195 to 205 mm.

To sharpen up the handling new bearings were developed for the front and rear axles, while a more direct steering ratio has been introduced. A further addition is a stiffer anti-roll bar at the rear axle, decreasing body roll.

Another change is the fitment of six-speed transmission in the manual models, a new rod linkage making the gearshift far more precise.

The new diesel model works very well with the five-speed auto transmission, however, as the automatic 'box keeps the diesel engine in its fairly narrow powerband without any effort on the driver's part.

The new C-Class also gets powerful bi-Xenon headlamps as standard, as well as a simplified version of the Active lighting system fitted on the E-Class models.

This is known simply as the cornering light system. It uses the secondary driving lights mounted in the lower section of the front bumper. A light element directed outwards the edge of the road is activated when the driver uses the indicator switch signalling a turn.

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class represents a great shift in Mercedes-Benz model positioning here. For the first time a Mercedes-Benz model has appeared regularly in the top-ten sales charts over the past three years.

And with these new changes to the C-Class, Mercedes-Benz is reinforcing the idea that the three-pointed star is no longer a symbol of conservatism.

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