Daimler hopes the new Mercedes-Benz X class will be a game-changer for its light commercial vehicles division, giving the business a more diversified sales footprint by entering the booming global segment of midsize pickups.
Mercedes-Benz Vans boss Volker Mornhinweg said pickups are moving upmarket, just like SUVs have done. "SUVs are elegant lifestyle products with a high-quality finish to them. Not every customer takes them into the wilderness anymore. We believe pickups could go in a similar direction," he told Automotive News Europe.
Until now, Daimler's vans division has been overwhelmingly dependent on Europe, with 70 percent of its 360,000-unit volume coming from the region last year. With the X class, Daimler is targeting a diverse customer group from farmers in South America, building contractors in Australia, families in Brazil, and trend-conscious individuals in Europe and South Africa.
The pickup aims to tap into surging demand for vehicles capable of transporting one-ton payloads and towing an additional 3.5 tons. Mercedes forecasts volumes for this type of truck will grow by nearly half to 3 million vehicles worldwide in the next 10 years.
The X class will go on sale in Europe in November, in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand early next year and in Argentina and Brazil in 2019. For now, Mercedes says it has no plans to sell the X class in the U.S. where demand is mainly for full-size pickups.
French market researchers Inovev forecast annual X class sales to be 50,000 a year with 20,000 sold in Europe, 20,000 in South America and 10,000 in South Africa.
In a research note, JATO Dynamics said the X class is the first attempt to prove that the premium touch can work in a pickup. It said the model will face "several challenges" in Europe where customers consider pickups to be work vehicles and prefer smaller cars.
As part of Daimler's industrial cooperation with Renault-Nissan, the X class uses the same platform as the Nissan Navara and Renault Alaskan with a conventional ladder-type frame. This reinforces the long steel support on each side to give the truck its robust construction over the unibody format used by most automobiles.
To better offset lower levels of comfort and handling in these kind of trucks, Mercedes introduced more complex and expensive features typically found in passenger cars such as a double-wishbone suspension for the front wheels. Instead of the usual leaf springs and drum brakes on the load-bearing rear axle, the X class was given coil springs and brake discs to give the vehicle a better ride performance and shorter braking distances on paved surfaces.