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Benz gears up for Australian X-Class attack

Beaut ute: It is unclear if the production version of the X-Class will be sold in Mercedes-Benz Vans or Cars dealerships in Australia.

Sales targets unclear but Mercedes-Benz expecting success from X-Class in Aus


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28 Oct 2016

MERCEDES-BENZ Vans Australia managing director Diane Tarr believes that the company’s first mid-size pick-up will play a “critical” role in the ongoing growth of the light commercial arm Down Under, but the company is remaining tight-lipped on sales forecasts.

The production version of the Nissan Navara-based X-Class will hit Australian shores in 2018 and slot into the busy pick-up segment that is currently dominated Toyota’s HiLux and Ford’s Ranger, while the Mitsubishi Triton, Holden Colorado and Volkswagen Amarok will also be targets for the German brand.

Ms Tarr said she believed that Mercedes’ extensive experience in dozens of automotive segments would help ensure the production-ready version of the X-Class makes its presence felt in Australia.

“If you look at the line-up, we have got the credentials from compact passenger cars right through to light commercial into heavies,” she told GoAuto at the global reveal of the Concept X-Class in Sweden this week. “We have got the heritage of 4x4, off-road SUV, G-Wagon, our Sprinter 4x4 too.

“Without losing focus on our existing line-up of products of course, it’s important to continue to grow and we are growing. To have a new product in our suite is super exciting.” When asked whether the X-Class could equal the VW Amarok’s monthly average sales of 500 to 700 units, Ms Tarr said she could not reveal volume expectations for the Australian market.

This followed Daimler chairman and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars Dieter Zetsche’s refusal to identify targets at the reveal.

When Benz announced the project last year it confirmed that it would undergo testing in Australia, and while Benz was quiet on what sort of testing and its timing, GoAuto understands that engineering mules will hit local dirt in the coming months.

What is clear is that Mercedes will market the X-Class as a ute in Australia as opposed to calling it a pick-up, an Americanism that has been widely adopted by car-maker’s, journalists and consumers in recent years.

Ms Tarr said the ute was a good fit in the Mercedes-Benz Vans portfolio in Australia, but acknowledged that adding a new model line would have its challenges.

“You have to have the foundations right first. We are always evolving those. When I say foundations, it’s your people, processes, structure. It’s just a matter of making sure all of those are all right for a product like this. A lot of people say ‘it is a game changer, it’s a big volume’, and of course it is but fundamentally the principles should be the same.

“Of course you are looking at a different customers base, working in good cooperation with our network partners and internal partners such as (Mercedes-Benz). It’s a matter of making sure we have got that all right for this ute. And we will call it a ute. It’s not a pick-up.” Ninety per cent of Mercedes-Benz Vans dealerships in Australia are also passenger car dealers with the remaining 10 per cent solely focusing on commercials.

4 center imageLeft: Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia managing director Diane Tarr. Ms Tarr said the company was still “finalising” whether the X-Class would be sold through car or van dealerships, or a combination of the two.

“We will put the pick-up into the right representation. We are doing feasibility studies for Australia and New Zealand and working on looking at competitors, customer drive times, exactly where that representation will be.

“Our intention is it could be both. It will be in Cars and potentially in some commercial to get the right representation.” A possible network expansion is also part of the wider dealership review, Ms Tarr added.

Ms Tarr said she did not anticipate any push-back from potential buyers discovering that the Benz ute shares its underpinnings with the humble Nissan Navara.

“When you look at our ute you know it’s a Mercedes-Benz, we have obviously got a lot more insight into what makes that a Mercedes-Benz vehicle. I am comfortable that there wouldn’t be a concern from some buyers who say ‘oh underneath it is just a Nissan Navara’. I think when you see the production series in a bit more detail that will come to light.”

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