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Australia still hopeful for Mercedes-AMG ute

Passionate: The Australian arm of Mercedes-Benz Vans has been involved in X-Class development from the outset and will continue to push the case for a high-performance version with head office.

Local Mercedes-Benz Vans chief refuses to rule out AMG X-Class, other body styles

Mercedes-Benz logo12 Apr 2018

By TERRY MARTIN

MERCEDES-BENZ Vans Australia/New Zealand managing director Diane Tarr remains hopeful that a high-performance flagship version of the X-Class utility will still emerge from the German prestige manufacturer’s AMG division, despite being ruled out in the short-term.

The Australasian subsidiary is also keeping the door open for other variants of the X-Class, such as single and extra-cab body styles, if there is sufficient demand from customers.

Australia is one of Mercedes’ top markets for the X-Class, with local executives playing a key role in the Nissan Navara-based ute’s development and advising head office on market trends such as the move towards high-end sports variants.

While Mercedes-AMG chief executive Tobias Moers revealed to GoAuto at the recent New York motor show that an AMG X-Class was off the table, Ms Tarr told us at the local X-Class launch in Tasmania this week that “we hope we can’t absolutely rule it out”.

“We know how passionate Australian public audiences are around AMG,” Ms Tarr said.

“Let’s say that we hope we can’t absolutely rule it out, but it is ruled out for now.

“We will always listen to the market and try and motivate (head office) wherever there is a possibility, because we know that this segment can grow so much more.”

A 190kW/550Nm 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel engine joins the opening 2.3-litre four-cylinder range later this year, and in the absence of a fully-fledged AMG version Mercedes is expected to at least offer AMG styling and accessory packages to boost the ute’s sports appeal.

The company is also not ruling out other body styles further down the track to extend on the dual-cab-only launch range.

“At this point in time, it’s just solely a dual cab but, again, we’re jumping into this exciting segment and let’s not rule anything out,” Ms Tarr said.

“It’s part of our experience and our growth in bringing such an incredible product into this segment and we will will keep all our options open.

“We will always listen to the market and if there’s demand there we will always take it into consideration as a business case.”

Volkswagen’s Amarok is a key rival for the X-Class, likewise offering a 3.0-litre V6 diesel powertrain and set to keep its nose in front of Mercedes with an upgrade to 190kW/580Nm (+25kW/30Nm) due for release in September.

Volkswagen Group Australia has also been aggressive in the lead-up to the X-Class launch, highlighting that Amarok’s technology “derives wholly from within the Volkswagen Group” and that “we have not had to look to Japan for a donor vehicle”.

Asked how Mercedes reacts to tactics such as those from its competitors, Ms Tarr: “I think here we don’t react.

“They certainly can have an approach, or position. In some ways it (the rise of X-Class) marked work for them.

“We possibility are a competitor more so because we are European, and they’ve held that ground, that space. (But) I think from all aspects it’s a big market, it’s a growing market.

“There’s always going to be those diehard (customers) committed to a brand, and ute drivers, be it a Toyota, be it a Volkswagen, be it a Nissan, and I’m certainly confident that we will shake it up – and I think we are shaking it up.

“There’s space for all of us, because of that growth in the market, and I think we can ramp it up and then create and expand that segment of attracting customers that probably never thought about having a ute in their garage or driveway as a second or first car.” Mercedes has made a point of emphasising class leadership with the fitment of autonomous emergency braking (AEB) across the range, but there is no word yet on whether it will move quickly to regain its ascendancy over Volkswagen in terms of the flagship powertrain.

“We will always look and consider how we can find these class-leading options as an opportunity,” Ms Tarr said.

“Even though we haven’t even started to sell the vehicle in the market yet, already there’s innovation and improvements in the overall ute segment and product, so that can only benefit the customer at the end of the day if we keep raising our level of specification and equipment.”

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