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Future models - Mercedes-Benz - Ute

Benz announces future pick-up

Euro ute: The unnamed Mercedes-Benz ute could look like this when it arrives in Australia, most likely in 2018.

Mercedes to produce a mid-size pick-up that will be tested in Australia

Mercedes-Benz logo28 Mar 2015

By TIM NICHOLSON

MERCEDES-BENZ will target Australia and New Zealand’s lucrative light commercial vehicle market with confirmation it will build a mid-size utility that will undergo testing Down Under.

The German manufacturer said in a statement that the pick-up will be the first vehicle of its kind from a premium brand, providing yet another option in Australia’s highly competitive ute segment.

Timing is still unclear, but it is believed the all-new light truck is at least two years away from launch, potentially giving it a 2018 on-sale date.

The workhorse will fall under the Mercedes-Benz Vans division that includes the Vito, Viano and forthcoming V-Class due mid-year. It is not expected to be produced in Europe or the United States, leaving South America or South Africa as the likely manufacturing source.

Mercedes-Benz Vans managing director for Australia and New Zealand Diane Tarr said the company was “excited” to be developing a vehicle that it promises will offer a mix of versatility, comfort, design and safety of a passenger car.

“We have been working on this project for a number of years and Australia and New Zealand have been an integral part of the program from the very beginning,” she said. “We will be conducting product testing in Australia over the next couple of years.” Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific senior manager of public relations, product and corporate communications David McCarthy told GoAuto that the Australian subsidiary had been involved in development of the still-to-be-named utility for some time.

“We have been involved in terms of discussion about specification, variants, engines, drivetrains, all of that right from the start for the last couple of years,” he said.

“There has been a lot of market research done in Australia. Obviously, though, it’s early days, but we feel pretty comfortable that what’s going to come here will be very saleable and very competitive and I think we will actually surprise quite a few people.”

Mercedes has not revealed any information about the mechanicals and underpinnings of the pick-up, and it is unclear whether it will be based on an existing Mercedes-Benz Vans platform or all-new underpinnings.

There is also no word on whether Benz will extend its plug-in hybrid powertrain rollout to the ute.

An official sketch of the ute gives an impression of what it could look like when it arrives later in the decade, with the front end carrying styling cues from the current Mercedes range.

As well as Australia and New Zealand, the company says other target markets include Europe, South Africa and South America, with North America set to miss out given the smaller size of the ute compared with larger US-centric offerings such as the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado and Dodge Ram.

Mr McCarthy was unable to go into detail about the Australian testing and development program, but highlighted the “strong relationship” Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific has with its German parent, as well as some of its local engineering projects.

“Australia is an important market. Whether it’s AMG, Freightliner, MB Trucks, Fuso, we have a voice in Germany,” he said.

“There is a lot of local engineering going on with the military G-Wagon.

Obviously we have got the project, albeit small scale, where there are G-Wagons being sold into the state government of Victoria for fire-fighting use. And that has had a lot of local input.

“So the relationship is very good and strong. We understand the market, and accordingly they listen.”

A number of major car-makers use Australia to put new models through their paces ahead of a wider global launch.

Ford Australia was the lead design and engineering studio for the Ranger ute and related Everest, GM Holden has tested global models such as the Chevrolet Spark/Opel Karl, while Mitsubishi’s next-generation Challenger is currently undergoing testing in South Australia.

Mr McCarthy would not discuss pricing and positioning for the Benz ute, but added that the product would be strong enough to add volume to Mercedes’ already growing sales tally.

“The market for this vehicle is pretty broad. I am not going to say where it is going to start and where it is going to finish, but suffice to say we have got some pretty ambitious targets for it so it needs to be right and it needs to be suited for the local market,” he said.

“European utes are obviously different to Asian utes and the home-grown utes. I am not worried about what the competitors are doing and what they have coming, we are going to have a better product.” An obvious rival is Volkswagen’s German-built Amarok, which is seen as a more high-end alternative to the Thai-built utes such as HiLux and Ranger.

The Amarok starts at $31,490, plus on-road costs, for the 4x2 dual-cab TDI340and tops out with the 4x4 TDI420 Ultimate at $65,290.

Last year in Australia, 17.8 per cent of all new-vehicle sales were made up of light-commercial vehicles, with four-wheel drive versions taking a 12 per cent slice of the market.

Pick-up sales have grown significantly in the past decade, with 175,373 4x4 and 4x2 utilities sold last year, representing an increase of almost 38,000 units compared with the 137,990 tally from 2004.

The fiercely competitive segment has been dominated by the Toyota HiLux for many years, but Ford’s Australian developed and designed Ranger has been making gains and was the sixth best-selling vehicle in Australia last year with 26,619 units, behind the third-placed HiLux with 38,126.

The LCV sector is heating up in 2015, with a facelifted Ranger arriving in July, the new Mitsubishi Triton launching in May and the Nissan Navara following in the third quarter. Toyota’s all-new HiLux is expected either later this year or early next year.

Several other car-makers are planning, or rumoured to be developing utilities that will end up on the Australian market, with French car-maker Renault deep into a business case for a workhorse, while American SUV specialist Jeep is also said to be planning a pick-up.

Fiat looks set to offer a ute based on the forthcoming Mitsubishi Triton, but it is unclear whether this is for emerging or developed markets.

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