FRANKFURT Dec 19 (Reuters) - Mercedes-Benz will build a long-wheelbase version of its new C-Class sedan for China, as part of ambitious plans to roll out production of its biggest selling model across four continents in six months, board member Thomas Weber said on Thursday.
Daimler is preparing its factories in Germany, the United States, China and South Africa to build the next generation C-Class using a modular production system that allows it to manufacture several different versions suited to local markets.
"In the past we built cars, today we develop generations of models," the head of development at Mercedes-Benz Cars told Reuters.
A station wagon and a limousine are planned when the car hits markets next year in addition to other models which will feature a new head-up display system and a multi-media system operated by a touch-sensitive pad.
"There will be a long-wheelbase version for the specific needs of Chinese clients. This car will be built in China, exclusively for that market," Weber explained.
The successful launch of its next generation C-Class, which accounts for about 30 percent of its car sales, forms a leading part of the German auto maker's strategy to surpass rival BMW to become the largest selling premium auto maker.
The new C-Class will be officially unveiled at the Detroit auto show in January, replacing the current version which was first launched in 2007. Thanks to improvements in production methods, the new model takes less time to assemble.
"We have made a massive leap in terms of efficiency," Weber said. "A key reason for efficiency gains is the architecture," Weber said, referring to the new rear-wheel modular platform which will also be used to make the next generation E-Class limousine.
"We will raise production figures faster than we have in the past," Weber said.
Thanks to increased use of aluminium, the newest generation Mercedes C-Class will weigh some 100 kilos less than the current generation, helping it to become around 20 percent more fuel efficient.
Mercedes-Benz plans to phase in production of the new model in a seamless manner. In the past 12 months Mercedes-Benz made 316,000 C-Class models at its factory in Bremen because demand for the current model is still high.
"The current C-class is selling well even in its final year, and we aim to raise production further with the successor," Weber said.
Asked whether Daimler was considering production of engines at a Renault-Nissan factory in Mexico, Weber said, "We have already said that Mexico is of interest as a location for production, but no final decisions have been taken." (Reporting by Edward Taylor and Illona Wissenbach, editing by William Hardy)