With a little help from its friends, Mercedes-Benz is about to get into the pickup truck business.
At a news conference in Sweden on Tuesday, the German automaker pulled the wraps off the Concept X-Class, a thinly disguised version of the truck it will put into production late next year. The truck will initially be offered in Europe and Australia, as well as parts of Africa and South America. But the maker dropped hints it may reverse its previous position and eventually bring the X-Class to the U.S., as well.
“With the Mercedes-Benz pickup, we will close one of the last gaps in our portfolio,” declared Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Daimler AG and had of its Mercedes-Benz brand, during the Stockholm preview.
While Detroit automakers have increasingly targeted luxury buyers with their pickups, the X-Class will mark the first time a German luxury brand has entered the segment, a move that appears to reflect the fact that a growing number of pickup buyers use the trucks as a substitute for conventional, high-end vehicles.
Though it will wear the familiar Mercedes tri-star logo, the underpinnings of the new truck come from the Renault-Nissan Alliance – more precisely, from the Japanese side of that partnership. The X-Class rides on the same platform as the 2016 Nissan Navara pickup.
But it isn’t just a matter of badge engineering. The Mercedes model gets its own unique body and interior, powertrain family and key suspension components, as well as a suite of the German brand’s safety technologies.
Don’t expect a “fat cowboy truck,” Volker Mornhingweg, the head Mercedes-Benz Vans, told Britain’s Car magazine. The van division will produce the pickup.
Instead, look for a “stylish explorer,” suggested Gorden Wagener, Head of Design at Daimler, during the Stockholm preview. “The Concept X-CLASS design variants interpret the hallmark brand design idiom of our SUVs in a most expressive form, and embody the dichotomy of our design philosophy: they are hot and cool.”
Along with two different design variants, Mercedes will offer several different powertrains, starting with a V-6 diesel paired with 4Matic permanent all-wheel-drive and two differentials. The beefiest version of the X-Class will be able to haul up to 1.1 metric tons – about 1,400 pounds – of cargo. It will also tow up to 3.5 metric tons, or 7,700 pounds.
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While Mercedes is billing itself as the first premium brand to build a pickup, that’s not entirely accurate. Lincoln has offered several trucks over the years, including the quirky Blackwood, a market disaster that generated barely less than 1,000 sales before being pulled from the market. But the Detroit Three have steadily moved upmarket with their mainstream truck models, a fully loaded, top-line Ford F-150 easily pushing into the $60,000 range.
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Pickups, in general, produce a disproportionate share of Detroit’s profits, and while the overall segment has been slowing in recent months, demand for high-line versions of products like the F-150, the GMC Sierra and Ram 1500 continue to build momentum. In fact, from a dollar standpoint, such high-end trucks now generate more sales than all the German luxury manufacturers combined in the U.S. market.
And that could be why Daimler appears to be giving second thoughts to the need to bring a version of the X-Class to the States.
“While a pickup is under consideration for the US market at some point, no timeline is available for a decision to be made,” a spokesman for Mercedes told TheDetroitBureau.com.
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