Mercedes-Benz will roll its Concept X truck into the Geneva Motor Show early next month, the prototype for its all-new X-Class pickup.
Developed on a platform provided by alliance partner Nissan, the midsize X-Class was intended for markets in Europe, South Africa, Australia and South America, but Mercedes has, until now, said it had no intention of bringing the new truck to the world’s largest pickup market, the United States. But it appears to be rethinking that decision.
“In the past year the (U.S.) mid-sized truck market has come back a bit,” Volker Mornhingweg, head of the Mercedes-Benz Vans division, at a Friday news conference. Pointing to the success of two revived General Motors models, the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, Mornhinweg said, “We are watching developments very closely, and we will take a decision at the appropriate time.”
Midsize trucks once dominated the U.S. sales charts but, in recent decades, demand has shifted to full-size offerings, such as the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado, which have routinely accounted for anywhere from 10 to 15% of the overall American automotive market. But new models, such as the Colorado and Canyon, as well as the reborn Honda Ridgeline, have generated plenty of buzz – and growing sales.
(Honda Ridgeline named North American Truck of the Year. Click Here for the story.)
That’s leading other mainstream makers to take a closer look at the midsize market. Ford, for one, recently reversed course and said it will start selling a U.S. version of its global midsize model, the Ranger. And Hyundai continues to work on a version of its Santa Cruz pickup.
The American pickup market could be especially appealing to a luxury maker like Mercedes, however, because average transaction prices have risen sharply in recent years. And where trucks once targeted the working class, they’re increasingly finding a home in some very affluent neighborhoods.
In fact, a new study by MaritzCX shows that the F-150 is now the singular most popular vehicle among U.S. buyers making more than $200,000 annually. That’s one reason Ford has added a series of ever-more expensive versions of the F-150, most recently the Limited edition which starts at around $60,000.
(For more on the Maritz pickup study, Click Here.)
Midsize models tend to carry lower transaction prices, but Mercedes appears to be looking at the opportunity to create a luxury niche in the segment, much as it has done with compact sedans and SUVs with its CLA and GLA models.
For now, Mornhinweg isn’t offering any insight into timing. There are still questions to be asked about the long-term robustness of the American midsize truck market. But the Mercedes executive did appear to tip his hand by noting that the German maker is already looking at production opportunities. There is not enough capacity to supply the U.S. market from the carmaker’s plant in Argentina, where the X-Class will be assembled, he noted. As a result, Mercedes appears to be looking at a site in the States.
It has a number of possible options, including a further expansion of its plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama – the same factory that was the target of a $1.3 billion expansion announced in September 2015. It might also be possible to add a line to the new Sprinter van plant Mercedes is building near Charleston, South Carolina.
Mercedes first revealed the Concept X at a news event in Stockholm last October. Though it will wear the familiar Mercedes tri-star logo, the underpinnings of the production X-Class 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.
“With the Mercedes-Benz pickup, we will close one of the last gaps in our portfolio,” declared Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Daimler AG and head of its Mercedes-Benz brand, during the Swedish preview.
The Concept X was shown in two different forms: the lifestyle-focused Stylish Explorer, and the work-oriented Powerful Adventurer. We’ll have to wait to see if either of those, or perhaps another version entirely, will make it to the States.
(Click Here for more on the Concept X and upcoming C-Class.)