NEW MODEL FO­CUS

New Zealand LCV - - CONTENTS - BY MIKE STOCK

Mercedes-benz has taken the wraps off the pro­duc­tion ver­sion of the X-class, its first-ever ute. We de­scribe in de­tail the pick-up truck which will makes its NZ de­but early next year.

IT’S THE MOST TALKED ABOUT, AND PER­HAPS THE MOST ea­gerly-awaited, ute of the past 18 months.

And the pro­duc­tion ver­sions of Mercedes-benz’s first-ever mid­sized pick-up truck made their pub­lic de­but in South Africa in the third week of July.

The Mercedes ute, the X-class, will go on sale in New Zealand in the first quar­ter of next year, ini­tially with four-cylin­der tur­bod­iesel mo­tors.

A 3.0-litre V6 will fol­low later in the year, and that’s the one, we’re pick­ing, that buy­ers will be most at­tracted by.

Mercedes, with­out a trace of false mod­esty, refers to the X-class as the first pick-up truck from a pres­tige car man­u­fac­turer.

Not that you can re­ally argue with that state­ment, for most pick­ups (utes in Kiwi-speak) are fielded by main­stream car­mak­ers like Toy­ota, Ford, Nis­san, Mit­subishi, or truck mak­ers like Isuzu.

The near­est to a maker of pre­mium ve­hi­cles has been Volkswagen with its up­mar­ket take on the ute, the Amarok.

Par­tic­u­larly with the V6 ver­sion, VW has done some ground­break­ing that the Mercedes will ben­e­fit from, tak­ing the once-hum­ble ute to new heights of lux­ury – and price.

The V6 Volkswagen peaks around the $83,000 mark but June sales of the VW truck hit new lev­els reach­ing just a shade be­low 200.

So what will the X-class cost here? Your guess is as good as ours. Mercedes NZ isn’t say­ing, and won’t be drawn into spec­u­la­tion.

Some ob­servers sug­gest the price will have to re­flect Mercedes’ po­si­tion as a pre­mium brand, but the pick-up mar­ket is new ter­ri­tory for Mercedes so Mercedes-benz NZ staff face a tricky de­ci­sion on where to po­si­tion the X-class price-wise.

Then they’ll have to ne­go­ti­ate with the head of­fice in Ger­many which will have its own ideas on what the price should be.

No prices for mar­kets out­side Ger­many have been an­nounced, but Mercedes says X-class prices in its home mar­ket will start at 37,294 Euro. At presstime, that con­verted to $58,473 in NZ cur­rency.

Pre­sum­ably that’s for a man­ual Pure, the work­horse model in the three-stage line-up, so even the base Pure would be a pricey work­horse here.

You can ex­pect the mid-grade Pro­gres­sive and top-range Power V6 to be con­sid­er­ably more ex­pen­sive.

Maybe the Pro­gres­sive will be priced near to the Amarok V6, but we’d ex­pect the Power V6 to cost more, given that Mercedes is defin­ing its ute as the prod­uct of a pres­tige man­u­fac­turer.

Whether Mercedes NZ adds the work­horse Pure model to its lineup re­mains to be seen.

The brand’s cars don’t com­pete in the bread-and-but­ter seg­ment of the mar­ket, and we can’t vi­su­alise Mercedes go­ing into the roug­hand-tum­ble work­horse end of the ute mar­ket.

The work­horse’s buy­ing de­ci­sion de­fin­ers in­clude rugged­ness and load-haul­ing abil­ity, both of which the Mercedes will surely have.

And then there’s price – the most amount of bang for your buck – where given the in­dica­tive Ger­man price for the Pure, the Mercedes would prob­a­bly not be com­pet­i­tive

We sus­pect Mercedes NZ is un­likely to want to en­ter into the price wars that rage around the en­try-level utes where the buy­ers’ main con­sid­er­a­tion is the most truck you can buy for the least amount of money.

Mercedes’ vans don’t com­pete at that level of the mar­ket and we can’t see the com­pany pitch­ing the X-class Pure against low­er­grade vari­ants from es­tab­lished ute mak­ers.

It’s more likely to go for the mid- and high-grade X-class utes, but we’ve been told that all three X-class mod­els are un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

So, too, are the three diesel en­gines – the 120kw sin­gle tur­bocharger X 220 d, the twin turbo X 250 d which de­vel­ops 140kw, and the high-torque V6 diesel X 350 that will join the range in mid-2018. The V6 de­vel­ops 190kw of max­i­mum power and peak torque of 550Nm.

Mercedes prides it­self on per­for­mance, qual­ity and driv­ing sat­is­fac­tion, so we sug­gest it will opt only for the more pow­er­ful four­cylin­der tur­bod­iesel.

The V6, of course, is a no-brainer. True Mercedes diehards will set­tle for noth­ing less than the top model.

Mercedes NZ has in­di­cated that all driv­e­trains are un­der con­sid­er­a­tion – rear-wheel drive, se­lectable four-wheel drive and per­ma­nent four-wheel drive.

Two-wheel drive X-class Mercs will def­i­nitely come here, we un­der­stand. The two-wheel drive ute seg­ment is grow­ing rapidly – faster, in fact, than the ute seg­ment as a whole – and Mercedes will want to cap­i­talise on that.

Main­stream brands are all push­ing for 2WD sales, try­ing to peg back the run-away rear-wheel drive niche leader, the Ford Ranger.

So ex­pect Mercedes to field rear-drive X-class utes to com­pete with up­scale 2WD utes from es­tab­lished pick-up truck man­u­fac­tur­ers.

So is there a mar­ket for a Mercedes ute? The an­swer is an em­phatic “yes.”

It’s un­der­stood that Mercedes-benz NZ has well over 1000 ex­pres­sions of in­ter­est in the X-class on its web­site, and that those ex­pres­sions of in­ter­est are pre­dom­i­nantly for the high-end vari­ants.

How much of that will turn into ac­tual sales re­mains to be seen, but the level of in­ter­est – both from tra­di­tional Mercedes buy­ers and peo­ple con­sid­er­ing mov­ing from a high-end SUV into a lux­ury ute – is re­port­edly very high.

In Aus­tralia, where Mercedes has been tak­ing de­posits, po­ten­tial buy­ers have al­ready stumped up their money with­out know­ing the fi­nal re­tail prices.

Po­ten­tial NZ buy­ers, how­ever, have tended to hang on to their cash for the present, LCV Mag­a­zine has been told.

The ex­pec­ta­tions for Mercedes’ first ute are high, and it will be cru­cial for Mercedes NZ to get its model mix and pric­ing right.

The suc­cess of VW’S V6 Amarok shows that there are buy­ers will­ing to stump up once un­heard-of money for a ute.

And VW has shown that a brand with vir­tu­ally no ex­pe­ri­ence of build­ing and mar­ket­ing utes can make a go of it.

The ca­chet of the Mercedes name and rep­u­ta­tion for per­for­mance, driv­ing dy­nam­ics and qual­ity will at­tract po­ten­tial buy­ers to the X-class.

The rub is that this is a new fron­tier for a brand that builds pres­tige cars and high-qual­ity vans and trucks and is now ven­tur­ing into new ter­ri­tory, bring­ing to mar­ket a prod­uct it says bridges the gap be­tween com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles and cars.

Given that it is draw­ing on the pick-up truck ex­per­tise of Nis­san for the un­der­pin­nings of the X-class and its own thor­ough­ness and ul­tra-high stan­dards, Mercedes is more than likely to suc­ceed.

Cer­tain to be sold here are the Mercedes-benz X-class Power (white ute) and Pro­gres­sive.

Above left: Base model in the X-class range is the Pure. It’s un­der con­sid­er­a­tion for the NZ mar­ket. Above right: Mercedes has de­vel­oped a range of ac­ces­sories for the X-class like this sports bar. Be­low: Pro­gres­sive is the mid-range model in the X-class line-up.

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