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Future models - Mercedes-Benz - X-Class

Mercedes uses ‘Aussie’ Ford as ute benchmark

No go: Don’t expect an AMG variant of the X-Class, or an SUV based on the same platform as Benz chairman Dieter Zetsche has ruled them both out.

Locally developed Ranger, HiLux and Amarok key benchmarks for Mercedes X-Class

Mercedes-Benz logo27 Oct 2016

By TIM NICHOLSON in STOCKHOLM

MERCEDES-BENZ has revealed it has used the Australian-engineered Ford Ranger as a benchmark in the development of its inaugural X-Class one-tonne mid-size utility, along with the segment-leading Toyota HiLux and Volkswagen’s more upmarket Amarok.

Production begins next year for the X-Class – previewed with two concepts unveiled in Sweden this week – after five years of extensive development, with an Australian launch set down for 2018.

Speaking with Australian journalists at the unveiling, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans Volker Mornhinweg said the Victorian-developed Ford Ranger was a key benchmark for the German manufacturer’s all-new ute, which is based on the current Nissan Navara.

“As we see, the first indication of maybe a change of OEMs in the pick-up segment was Volkswagen with Amarok,” he said. “A move to a product that is more car-like rough and tough capability as well, but when it comes to this topic they made this first one.

“Then Ford Ranger has gone even further into that direction. Therefore, for sure, we benchmarked these products.

“We also looked very precisely at the Toyota HiLux, which is the market-leader in that segment. This is what we had done and we are sure with our approach we will be quite successful against this competition.”

Mercedes executives said that planning for the pick-up kicked off in 2010 but development of the model itself did not start until early 2012.

The German car-maker said that despite the X-Class sharing its platform with the Nissan Navara, it would be a Mercedes through and through, with its own unique exterior styling, a recognisably Mercedes cabin and componentry under the skin not found in the Japanese donor vehicle.

Daimler chairman and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars Dieter Zetsche told Australian journalists that the co-operation with the Renault-Nissan Alliance has so far been a success, and that an ongoing collaboration for the next-generation pick-up was likely.

“After seven years, more than two handfuls of projects, mostly being in the market, I would say that the co-operation is successful for all three sides,” he said.

“I don’t know about many other examples of this kind of co-operation that have produced this kind of positive result.

“We are very happy that with much less initial funding, we can enter the segment and have the chance to be, in the first get go, pretty profitable, and if that goes well I wouldn’t know why we should forego these benefits especially for production synergies.

“We will see. But at that point of time I would see it as much more likely that we would continue into the next generation rather than going our separate ways.”

Mercedes is using Renault-Nissan Alliance production facilities to build the X-Class, with the Australian, European and South African-spec models coming from Barcelona, Spain, while Latin American markets will source their pick-ups from Cordoba, Argentina.

One market that will not be getting the X-Class is the United States, with Mercedes executives citing slowing sales in the mid-size pick-up segment and a strong preference for larger pick-up trucks as reasons to bypass the market.

Dr Zetsche also ruled out producing a full-fat AMG version of the X-Class – for now, at least.

“Obviously not. There is no plan. You never know, we will see how the market goes and see how this product goes in the marketplace,” he said.

Dr Zetsche also said that Mercedes would not follow Nissan’s lead in producing an off-road-capable SUV based on the Navara.

“We have a pretty broad, full-line portfolio with SUVs with the different classes (where) we basically cover the more cute and the more rugged positions and I think there is no white space,” he said.

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